From certain points of view, nothing seems cheaper, or less entitled to remembrance, than human lives.
They come like the waves that break on the shore and die, and every new tide washes out the traces of its predecessor.
Thousands of lives begin every day; thousands end every day. The cradle is always full, and so is the coffin; and what comes between them in ordinary cases is usually little marked by any but the nearest of kin, and is forgotten by neighbors in a year.
Few raise their heads above the common level, and ordinary lives are hidden and lost in the general mass.
When I walk amid village graveyards, I find thousands of decaying stones, covered with names representing lives once active and useful, perhaps, that are now, after only a century, wholly without any memory among men.
The name means nothing definite, calls up no recollection, and matches with nothing special. It was a man, a woman, a child; but the name calls back no image, and is associated with no character.
How frail and insignificant such experiences make human life appear, and especially one individual life!
How little importance seems to attach to what so soon becomes as untraceable as a drop of rain that has fallen into the ocean!
Of course, the melancholy impression I have described is largely due to a mere infirmity of human faculties, to dullness of imagination.
Taken together these individuals are all-important. They make families, and towns, and parties that determine who shall rule over us. They make the wilderness a garden; they and plant and reap our fields, buy and consume the industry of others, and make up the great common life of the world.
In fact, the individual is not this mere indifferent, monotonous, undistinguishable atom in a mass, where he is little or nothing, and the mass is all important. The reverse is true.
After all, it is individuals alone that have mind, or heart, or will, or knowledge, or worth.
All the love, sympathy, worth, hope, faith, in the world, is in individual hearts; all the life is in individual shape; there is no such thing as a generation, or a race, except on paper and in words.
The truth is, human being’s lives and souls are not commensurate with this small earth and its transitory interests and affairs.
The most superstitious or blind instincts of faith in the least sophisticated forms of Christian belief are nearer the real facts of our human significance as individuals than the secular theories of the worldly, who would make this world the be-all and the end-all of life.
But when we reflect that our spirits are made in the Divine image, and are capable of everlasting development in the celestial likeness; and when we know that matter gains no moral glory by magnitude, however vast, that endless worlds on worlds have not one single thought, feeling, aspiration, of their own, and that we alone, or spirits like us, can ever perceive their beauty or order, or rise to the thought of their Maker, we can begin to understand that, though the heavens may roll up like a scroll and the stars cease to give their light, the humblest soul that lives will survive the decay, and be looking on a new heavens and a new earth, in which dwelleth righteousness, when they are no more.
Yes, not one of us is forgotten before God, not a sparrow, not a lily of the field, not a hair of the head; how much less one immortal soul! Let no person dare to think lightly of themselves.
No one can afford to forget that if they have any lofty conceptions of God or Jesus, or of other human beings they think great, they owe it to the immense discerning powers of their own God-endowed soul.
Human beings alone can grow Godlike. We are made a little lower than the angels, and are over all other creatures as a ruler. It is not our exceptional beauty, or gifts, or culture, that gives us this distinction. It is our nature; and that nature is priceless and glorious in every single specimen.
Ah, think not lowly of yourselves, and sink into no common mass of being, as if your individuality were ever destructible or not all significant. You can be nobody but yourself. You cannot hide away, nor be lost in any crowd.
You carry the glory and the burden of your individuality. You have an immortal title in this personality you possess. Seas could not drown it out, nor could fire, though it were of the heavens in flame, burn it up. You are, and you must be, eternally yourself, and you have a soul, whose powers and faculties lay hold on eternity.
And this self is directly related to God, — is precious to Him. It contains the awful, the sublime, the ineffable, as well as the trivial, the present, and the earthly.
God is not so busy that He overlooks you.
What do you mean by stifling the dignity and significance of your soul? No one is forgotten before God. No one is insignificant in all the immortal list, and no man is other than a countersigned proof-copy of his Maker, in whom God will defend his rights and claim his work.
Every true soul, however forgotten, unknown, or undesired among men, has its divine patron, companion, and friend in God, the Father of spirits, its pattern in Jesus, the Savior of souls, and its sure and steadfast hope of immortal blessedness. Not one of them is forgotten before God!
(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Henry W. Bellows, published 1886)