July 23, 2009

Lessons from a 17th Century Graveyard

Written By Cary Schmidt

Lord, give me an “engraveable” testimony like Benjamin Edwards!

This misty morning, my wife and I took a slow, cloud-shrouded stroll through a 350-year-old cemetery in a churchyard in Setauket, Long Island. The church was established in 1660 and the graveyard was filled with tombstones barely readable after hundreds of years of decay. What we were able to read provoked some deep thoughts.

We read of a friend of George Washington—the first member of the secret service—who helped convey information to the general during the revolution. We read of a pastor who helped develop small-pox vaccines and was also a British loyalist. We read of a man who died at sea and whose body was recovered and placed to rest in Setauket. And we read of a man who pastored and walked with God for 36 years in that place. But the one that impacted and intrigued us the most was that of Benjamin Edwards. His barely readable grave-marker stated:

Benjamin Edwards, Son of Stephan and Hannah Edwards, departed this life August 10, 1829, age twenty years, five months and twenty-five days. He was, at the time of his decease, a member of the senior class in Yale College and had recently been appointed principal of the academy at Williesbarre in Pennsylvania. He was a young gentleman of early promise and possessed highly respectable talents, an amiable disposition, and an unexceptionable moral character. And as a son and brother and friend his feelings were affectionate and his conduct was exemplary.

As I read of Benjamin, I wondered how he died. I imagined the pain of those who knew him and how they must have sorrowed. I pondered the complimentary words that described his memory. I considered the time his family must have taken to craft those descriptive lines that summarized his life. And I was reminded again of the value of a “good name.” It’s hard to imagine that this young man’s testimony has lived on for 220 years beyond his death!

Most of the tombstones we read this morning were of people who passed away before age 55. Truly this life is a vapor! May God give us more people with the same kind of “engravable” testimonies that Benjamin Edwards possessed. May we live now with the knowledge that someday family and friends will be choosing words that best describe our short life. Let’s give them something to work with!

“A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.” (Ecclesiastes 7:1)