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THE SANCTIFICATION OF THE MEMORY
Wherefore I shall be ready always to put you in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and are established in the truth which is with you. And I think it right, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that the putting off of my tabernacle cometh swiftly, even as our Lord Jesus Christ signified unto me. Yea, I will give diligence that at every time ye may be able after my decease to call these things to remembrance.
“I shall be ready always to put you in remembrance of these things. [Verse 12] And what things are these? We have seen how the earlier counsels of this great chapter are disposed. It is as though we had first a description of rare and fertile soil, and then a catalogue of the marvellously bountiful fruits which can be grown in it. Or to change our figure, it is as though the earlier verses are descriptive of every man’s banking account, and the later verses point out the possible issues of vigilant and aggressive enterprise. The whole passage begins in the 238general endowment of grace and peace, and it finishes in the glorious possibility of an abundant entrance “into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
“I shall be ready always to put you in remembrance of these things.” It is vital that we remember this connection between soil and fruits, between capital and labour. It is all-important that we hold the apostolic teaching that the Christian gospel is not a theory to be defended, but an inheritance to be explored and enjoyed. The Christian is not first an apologist, or even an evangelist, but an experimentalist, dealing personally with the proffered grace and power of his Lord. At every moment the Christian is both passive and active, passively receiving the redemptive power of grace, and actively working it out in rich and perfected character. He is both suppliant and ambassador; he communes with God, he intercedes with man. He is not separately a man of the cloisters or a man of the street; he is both in one. He keeps in touch with the tremendous background of grace in order that he may fill his foreground with the fruits of grace in Christian life and duty. He brings the infinite into the trifle, and he knows that without the powers of eternal salvation he cannot redeem the passing day. 239In a word the Christian takes knowledge of his resources and does not dare to seek to live his life without them. He remembers “these things.”
But is it not a strange thing that we should ever be inclined to forget them? We should surely assume that whatever other things we might be inclined to forget we should always remember that we are spiritual millionaires. Is it possible that in doing the little business of life we can ever forget our buried capital in the Lord, the treasure laid up for us in heaven, and seek to win spiritual success without it? Yes, all this is a grave possibility, and therefore the apostle ardently labours to keep our remembrance alert. Memory is such a child of caprice, even in purely human matters! The memory is in the habit of playing curious pranks. We can remember people’s faces, but we forget their names. We remember a story, but we forget its date. We can repeat all the marriage relationships of the royal house, but we forget the steps of even a short argument. We can recall the unessential, and we forget the fundamental. “Memory is a capricious witch; she husbands bits of straw and rag, and throws her jewels out of the window.” And certainly in higher relationships our memory gives us no better 240service. We remember a single injury and we forget a multitude of gracious benefits. We remember material experiences and incidents, but we forget the things which most profoundly concern our peace. There is therefore surely great need for the strenuous word of the apostle. And it is as urgent upon us as upon the men and women of his own day that we vigorously set about to exercise and sanctify the powers of our remembrance.
Now, what can we say about it? Let us begin here. The intensity of our remembrance very largely depends upon the depth of the original impressions. Some incidents bite deep into the mind, like acid into metal; they are not printed, but graven; not written, but burned. Other impressions are like the writing upon the steamed window-panes of a railway carriage; let the outside atmosphere get a little warmer and they pass away in an hour. Now the depth of the impression is determined by the vividness of the vision. If our gaze is cursory the impression will be transient. How does all this bear upon our remembrance in the spirit? It has this most crucial bearing; our impressions are fleeting because we do not give sufficient time to receive them. The vision does not bite! What can a man know of the country of Uganda by careering through it in a railway 241train? What can a man know of the wealth and glory of our National Gallery if he takes the chambers at a gallop? If he is to retain a lasting and a vivid remembrance he must sit down before one of the masterpieces, and allow himself to steep in the contemplation of its glory. It is quite impossible to take a snapshot of the interior of a cathedral. If the exquisite tracery, and even the dim outlines of the structure, are to be captured, it will be done as the issue of a long exposure. And so it is with the vastness of our inheritance in Christ. Our visions come from long exposures; we have got to sit down reverently and gaze upon the glory of the Lord in prolonged contemplation. We sometimes sing, “There is life for a look at the Crucified One!” That is scarcely true if by look we mean a transient glance, a passing nod, a momentary turning of the eyes. “There is life for a gaze” and that life is continuous only so long as the gaze is retained. If we only glance upon the Master we shall forget the impression at the next turning of the way; the enemy will come, and will snatch away that which was sown in our hearts. The strength of our memory depends upon the depth of our impressions.
It is equally true that the intensity of the remembrance also depends upon the studied 242preservation of the impressions. There are forces ever about us that minister to erasion and oblivion. I noticed the other day that the workmen were engaged upon a very conspicuous monument in London, deepening the inscriptive letters which told the heroic story. The corrosives of time had been at work upon the once deep impressions, and they were being gradually effaced. And so it is with the lines in our memory; time is hostile to their retention, and is ever at work seeking their effacement. And so the impressions need to be periodically deepened and revived. Have we any ministries for effecting this purpose? Yes, I think we have many. A place can do it. If you go back to the little village where you spent your early days, how the old life comes back to you as you tread the accustomed ways and turn the familiar corners! How the sight of an old well can recall an experience, and even a drop upon the bucket can revive feelings which carry you back to your youth. And a place can sometimes refresh and deepen a spiritual impression. I wonder if Simon Peter ever went back to the court of the High Priest’s palace! I warrant he never passed near the door without the fountain of tears being unsealed, and the stream of penitential feelings flowing anew. There was a little place in a garden to which Thomas 243Boston used to repair whenever he wanted to quicken his early love for the Lord. It was his spiritual birthplace, and the very place seemed to abound in the ministry of regeneration. It would be an amazingly fruitful thing if some of my readers, whose spiritual fervour is growing cool, and whose early conception of the Lord is becoming faint, would spare a day to go to the place where first they knew the Lord, and I warrant that the sacred spot would re-deepen the lines of their early covenant, and they would find themselves revived. It would be a great day in many a man’s life if he would go back to the little village church, and sit for one Sunday in the seat which he occupied when there broke upon his wondering eyes, the vision of the glory of his Lord. For a place can renew the lines of our remembrances.
And a thing can do it. An apparently commonplace thing can recall a conspicuous history. I have known the scent of a flower unveil a day which seemed to have been buried in permanent obscurity. I never get the fragrance of the common dog-rose without my memory leaping back to an old-fashioned garden in the North, and peopling that garden with presences now gone, and awaking experiences which are pregnant with inspiration and peace. But the principle has higher applications still. A piece 244of broken bread can recall the broken body of the Lord, and a cup of wine can become the sacramental minister of the blood of the Lamb. Can we afford to forget these helpmeets of grace? Even the superlative verities of our faith sometimes grow dim to our eyes, and we temporarily lose our hold upon them. Let us make use of every means appointed by the Lord, if perchance our memory may be revived and these fruitful sanctities may be retained.
When I survey the wondrous Cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
An incident can do it. How frequently it happens that the hands busy themselves in doing a thing which has not been done for many years, and the little action draws the curtain back from our youth. I played a little game the other day which I had not played since boyhood, and in very literal feeling I was a boy again, and all the past environments round about my feet. And it is even so with activity of a higher kind. That bit of Christian work you dropped, and the dropping of which has brought such a heavy penalty of spiritual degeneracy and recoil! Take it up again! Your Lord’s grace was very real to you then! Take it up again, and you will find 245that in that God-blessed work your remembrance is revived, the effaced impressions have deepened again, and you have the old inspired vision of the glory of the Lord. Go to it again, I say, and your soul shall be restored. In all these ways, by a diligent determination to give ourselves time to receive our spiritual impressions, and by cherishing all the ministries by which the impressions can be preserved, it is possible to sanctify our memories and to make them temples of the living God.
But in our text the apostle puts himself forward as a helpmeet of other men’s remembrances. “I shall be ready always to put you in remembrance of these things.” [Verse 12] It is a gracious prerogative that we can minister to one another in holy things. It is possible for one man to rouse another man’s memory to the recollection of the things of the Spirit, and to revive his sense of the superlative grace and goodness of God. But this ministry of remembrancer is one that requires the utmost delicacy if its exercise is to be hallowed and fruitful. The phrase in my text, “to put you in remembrance,” literally signifies to remind quietly, to mention it under one’s breath, to gently suggest it! There are two ways of performing the function of remembrancer. We can approach our brother like an alarm bell, or we can bear upon him 246like a genial breathing. We can rouse some people quite easily by drawing up the blinds and letting in the light. There is no occasion for the rattle of artillery; it is quite enough to let the sunshine in. And there are some men who seem to be spiritually slumberous who do not require some angry indictment, but only a gentle hint of spiritual resource. Here is a man who is down; his troubles have multiplied on every hand; and in the depth of the depression he has forgotten everything but the calamity itself. Now here is an opportunity for the Lord’s remembrancer! But how unwise it would be to come with all the clatter of a fire-engine, and the accompaniment of a clanging, rousing bell. The only effective approach would be one of exquisite delicacy. We must approach the man as a nurse would touch a patient who is full of sores, and in tones of the softest compassion we must remind him that he is a millionaire, and that he has untold capital in the bank of the Lord. But, oh, the tact of it! See that fine touch in the apostle’s ministry: “I shall be ready always to put you in remembrance . . . though ye know them.” [Verse 12] How delicate the courtesy!” I have nothing new to tell you, but you and I have both got the Lord, haven’t we? I say the delicacy of it; it was the very inspiration of the Holy Ghost. “It shall be 247given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.”
And this ministry of remembrancer is one that must not be delayed. The man’s memory is getting numb. His early spiritual impressions are being effaced. The glory of the Lord is waning. The distant heaven is growing dim. Let not the remembrancer wait; let him set about his Christlike work in the assurance that the King’s business requireth haste. “I think it right . . . knowing that the putting off of my tabernacle cometh swiftly.” [Verses 13, 14] The remembrancer himself is only here for a time: he has but a day at the most: let him be up and about! The night cometh! But how beautiful the apostle’s conception of the coming night! Life is a pilgrimage in tents, and to-morrow he will pull up the tent-pegs and depart to “the city that hath foundations.” But meanwhile he must be active, deepening the lines in the memory of his fellow-disciples. “Yea, I will give diligence that at every time ye may be able after my decease to call these things to remembrance.” [Verse 15] He will do something to ensure the continuance of his ministry, even when he has gone home. “After my decease!” After my exodus! When he has left his Egypt and found his Canaan, the far-off land across the Jordan, the ministry of remembrancer shall be maintained. I think that 248every time they recalled the apostle, when he had gone home, the very memory would act as a restorative of their own spiritual experiences, and the depth of their early devotion would be regained.
Let us reverently and diligently see to the sanctification of our memories. Let us periodically inspect our impressions. Let us watch if we are in any way forgetful of our spiritual inheritance. Are we remembering our capital? Do we look like millionaires, or are we like beggars whose memories have utterly lost the significance of their grand estate? Lord, help us to remember what we ought never to forget!249
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