And it shall be, when the LORD your God shall have brought you into the land which he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac…
It is remarkable how frequently in the Book of Deuteronomy, when God is giving His final summary of instructions to the Israelites, the warning is repeated, that the Jewish Church forget not God and His dealings with them in connection with their deliverance from Egypt. Such warnings strike us the more forcibly, because the people to whom they were addressed had come into the closest contact with God, and had been favoured with the clearest visible evidences of His presence. To have seen Jesus in the flesh, to have witnessed His miracles, these would have been privileges the memory of which could have never passed away. Now, all such reasonings are mere self-deception. That there is a deep fallacy involved therein is manifest from the fact that the Jewish Church, which had the most abundant ocular demonstration of God and of His power, is so repeatedly cautioned against this forgetfulness of God. With this fact impressed upon our minds it will be profitable to consider the ways in which forgetfulness of God displays itself.
1. This tendency will be perceived in respect to God Himself. We acknowledge that it is in God that we live and move and have our being; yet we rarely find a sustained recognition of God. We do not walk day by day as seeing by the eye of faith Him who is invisible. What an importance would it give to life could we attain to that deep sense of the consciousness of God's immediate presence and majesty which is implied in the brief but full description of the spiritual life of those of whom it is recorded, that they walked with God.
2. But besides this forgetfulness of God in His abstract nature and perfections, we trace this evil in a similar forgetfulness of Him in His operations. God in His glorious majesty dwelleth in the highest heavens, but in His operations and providential dealings He is ever, as it were, coming down to earth and meeting us closely and continually in the pathway of our lives. Every comfort is held out to our acceptance by the hand of God; in every trial we may trace the discipline of God. But this we over' look: human agency, second causes, personal effort, self-dependence, come in between us and God. Backsliding Israel at length reached this point, that they knew not that it was God who gave them their corn and wine and oil, and multiplied their silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal.
3. Forgetfulness of God also displays itself in respect to that covenant which He has made with us in Christ. The Jewish Church had a special warning upon this head: Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you. A covenant with man is not disregarded nor trifled with. We are less scrupulous with respect to God. Our covenant with God goes beyond that of the Jewish Church, in that it brings Christ before us in His finished work, and no longer veiled in types and shadows. All that God can give to sinful man is our covenant portion in the Son of His love, the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. Another painful feature of this infirmity is to be found in the forgetfulness of the Lord Jesus as our Saviour. It is noted as one point in the sinfulness of Israel, that they forgat God their Saviour, who had done great things in Egypt. The Passover was to be the means of maintaining a devout remembrance of this deliverance. In like manner the Lord's Supper was to be a commemorative ordinance to keep ever before the minds of His people a lively remembrance of their greater deliverance by the death and sufferings of the Redeemer. Do this, says our Lord, in remembrance of Me. The grace and condescension, the tender love and never-failing compassion of the Saviour, His sufferings, and agony, and death, fade from our recollection.
5. We may notice one other form of this forgetfulness of Divine things. In addition to those ordinary influences of the means of grace upon the soul which the believer experiences, there are some occasions of special blessing. Some striking or alarming providence of God brings us, as it were, into His immediate presence; under the preaching of the Word, or in the prayerful study of it, the mysteries of spiritual truth are opened to the mind; it is a time of bright light, of quickened affections, of holy aspirations, of heavenly communion with God. In the moment of such ecstasy we feel how good it is to be here, and imagine that we shall go forth with the holy influence of such a season abidingly with us. It is a new era in our spiritual life. We can never be again engrossed, as in times fast, with the vanities of time. Yet the memory here again betrays its trust. Forgetfulness of the heights which we have reached lowers the tone of our spiritual life; coldness creeps over the soul; and it is well if we escape the state of backsliding Israel, when she "went after her lovers, and forgot Me, saith the Lord."
6. This forgetfulness of God cannot be confined to any one period of life; it meets us everywhere. As we look back upon the sins of our youth, this rises up as one of the most overwhelming. Amidst the buoyant spirits of our early days, and the cheerfulness of home, and the freshness of our first affections, where was God? What place did He occupy in our minds and in our hearts. "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth. But as years pass on, and manhood succeeds to youth, other objects engross the thoughts to the exclusion of God. The cares and anxieties attendant upon the start in life, the turmoil of business, the engrossing and ensnaring contact with the world, — these present no atmosphere favourable to the cultivation of habitual converse with God. Nor, if we follow on our search into advanced life, do we find it otherwise. Grey hairs and decreasing strength would seem to give a sufficiently solemn warning to prepare to meet God; but it is remarkable how entirely indifference and insensibility to Divine things mark an old age which succeeds a manhood of worldliness and a youth of thoughtlessness. Thus does forgetfulness of God accompany the worldly man through every period of his earthly life; and, in the case of the believer, the danger is equally present, and forms a main element in the severe conflict of his inner life. But though sin has introduced this infirmity into our fallen nature, God has not left us without a remedy.The evil may, through grace, be counteracted and overcome; and in order to this, the following suggestions are offered to the earnest Christian.
1. Realise the danger. Understand that the memory has a tendency to betray its trust, and neglect its duty in that which relates to God. There are many circumstances in our ordinary life which never pass away. Let a man be exposed to shipwreck, or to a railway accident, the horrors of the scene would be ever before him. There are many scenes of domestic interest which never lose their freshness. But it is otherwise in our spiritual life; and we should know it and feel it. Many an Israelite probably thought that he never could forget the passage through the Red Sea, or the terrors of Mount Sinai; but they did forget them. And so we think that the strong impression and deep conviction is to abide with us. Or we think, perhaps, that though gone for a while, it is only hidden in some secret place of memory's storehouse, and when needed will be produced again. But we are mistaken; and when we sit down to recall the past dealings with God, memory retains little beyond the bare fact; all the lesser yet perhaps more striking and instructive peculiarities of the dispensation are lost.
2. With this danger realised we next observe the need of much diligence and pains to counteract it. The natural faculty of memory differs greatly in its power in different individuals; but when weak, either generally or in any particular respect, we have recourse to certain means and helps for assisting and strengthening it. A careful and systematic classification of events, or the aid of a Memoria Technica, or a well-arranged commonplace book, will go far to supply the deficiencies of memory. Men will think no pains too great which will enable them thus to master the events of history or the facts of science. But when we pass from the subjects of human learning to the record of God's dealings with the Church and our own souls, all such efforts on our part are deemed useless and superfluous. We must be careful, too, in carrying out into corresponding action any impressions which have been made upon our minds, so as to fix them in the character by habits resulting from them. And we must note any dealings of God with us in providence or in grace which seem calculated to bring us nearer to Himself, in patient dependence or in grateful love.
3. In the use of these and like helps it is necessarily implied that the soul will be seeking by earnest prayer the effectual aid of the Holy Spirit. We have viewed this forgetfulness of God as an inseparable consequence of our fallen nature, and one which no amount of outward and sensible evidence or impression can of itself obviate, as the case of the Israelites hilly proves. A similar, and even stronger, proof is presented in the case of the apostles. They had enjoyed unrestrained intercourse with our blessed Lord for several years. His conversation, His teaching, never could be forgotten. Yet the mere moral and physical effects of this teaching would be counteracted by the weak and treacherous nature of human memory; and hence our Lord promises a direct operation of the Holy Spirit to remedy this infirmity: "The Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you."
Parallel VersesKJV: And it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not,