I Will Never Leave You!
George Everard, 1884
"He Himself has said: I will never leave you nor forsake you." Hebrews 13:5
There is something most instructive in the history of this promise. It was first given to Joshua as he was setting forth on his way to take possession of the promised land and to cast out the Canaanites, whose cup of iniquity was now full. "No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you." (Joshua 1:5).
We find the words again referred to by David in his charge to Solomon his son, in prospect of the work lying before him in the building of the Temple. David said to Solomon his son, "Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the LORD is finished." (1 Chronicles 28:20).
Now we find that the inspired author of the Epistle to the Hebrews takes it right out of the heart of Old Testament history, stamps it afresh with divine authority, and sends it forth for the consolation of all Christian people in all ages of the Christian Church.
The apostle's dealing with this promise teaches us a truth full of encouragement. The grand promises scattered through the pages of the Old Testament are not limited in their use to those to whom they were first spoken. They were intended, in the purpose of the Divine Spirit, for all such as they were fitted to comfort and assist.
Wherever there is a humble soul, conscious of sin and needing pardon, the great promise of Isaiah applies to that man. "Come now and let us reason together, says the Lord; though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (1:18).
Wherever there is a man conscious of moral depravity and harshness, and desiring renewal, there is for such a one the great promise given in Ezekiel: "A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit will I put within you. I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26).
It is so with the rest of God's promises. Put your finger on those most suited to your case. Think over them, receive them, rejoice in them. If you are a believer in Christ, you have a right to every one of them. You may claim them as your portion and your heritage forever.
It is this truth which the Apostle Peter teaches us in his Second Epistle (1:20). "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation." This passage has nothing to do with private judgment, but declares that Holy Scripture is not to be limited to one special case or individual, but that it has a wider and a larger purpose, having its lessons of comfort, warning, or instruction for the whole Church of God.
But let us go back to the promise given to the Hebrews. It is a staff on which we may lean all through the coming year. It is a precious rill of the river of the water of life from which our souls may drink and be refreshed. It is a shield of defense in which we may meet all the enemies of our salvation. It is a firm rock on which we may place our feet when the floods threaten to overwhelm us. Come what will in the changeful events of the future, let the days and weeks of this year come to us clothed in gloom and sorrow--or radiant with brightness and hope, still may we be of good courage if we can hear the voice of our Almighty Friend whispering in the ear, "I will never fail you, neither will I ever forsake you."
But who among us can lay claim to this promise? Who among us has a right to say, "This is a Father's voice speaking to my very heart"? Consider this for a few moments. Remember to whom it was originally spoken. It was to Joshua. And is there something in your character corresponding to his?
Joshua was a man of faith. He trusted in the arm of Jehovah. When the ten spies discouraged the people, and alarmed them with reports of the strength of their adversaries, Joshua and Caleb stood firm and bade the people go forward. Their enemies would be but bread for them. Their defense was departed. The Lord was on the side of Israel.
Have you something of this faith? Do you believe God's power and promise, and rest upon His truth? Do you trust in God as your Protector and Preserver?
Again, Joshua was a servant of Jehovah. It is the title of honor constantly joined to his name, "Joshua, the servant of the Lord." In the presence of the armies of Israel he declared his steadfast purpose, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!"
Is this your spirit likewise? Do you reckon it your highest privilege to be numbered among the servants of the Lord Almighty? Have you forsaken every other master, that you may serve the Lord, and Him only?
Again, Joshua was a brave warrior for the kingdom of God. Under the Captain of the Lord's army, he fought manfully against the enemies of Israel, and by the help of God he gained the victory. Have you enrolled your name as a good soldier of "the King of kings"? Are you fulfilling your baptismal pledge, "to fight manfully against sin, the world, and the devil"? Do you set your face against sin both in yourself and others? Do you strive to win men to the side of truth and righteousness and the fear of God? Is your influence felt to be in the right direction? Are you a courageous confessor of Christ's name, never ashamed of your Lord, but owning Him in face of ridicule and contempt?
Answer these questions to your own heart and conscience. Are you indeed in covenant with God? Have you yielded yourself to His service? Have you put on the heavenly armor, and are you fighting the Lord's battles? Have you that which is the root of it all, a true faith in the Son of God, trusting in Him as your only Advocate, and relying upon His atoning sacrifice as the only ground of your hope?
You cannot claim the Lord's promises, unless you are one of the Lord's true people. You might walk over a magnificent estate and admire the beauty which greets you on every side, but you could not speak of it and rejoice in it as your own, unless you had the title-deeds in your own possession.
It is thus with God's promises. No tongue can declare the glory and preciousness of this rich inheritance. It brings untold wealth to the possessor, both in this life and in the next. But have you the title-deeds? Have you the Spirit witnessing to your sonship in the Lord's family? Have you that heaven-born faith in Christ to which all the promises belong?
If so, the promise of the text is for you. And there is none that goes beyond it. "He has said: I will never leave you nor forsake you." Who can tell what multitudes of God's children in every age have rested on this word, and have found by experience that the Lord never left them, but was ever by their side?
The great "He" stands out so boldly in face of all our failings and forsakings. For we may not forget that in the days and years that lie before us, there is not one single person, not one single treasure we value--but, in the providence of God, may fail or forsake us.
One day you may be surrounded by kindred and friends, the next they may have flown away as the swallows at the approach of winter.
"Fathers may hate us or forsake,
God's foundlings then are we;
Mother or child no pity take,
But we shall still have Thee."
More than this. All earthly prospects may fail you. Bright hopes may be dashed to the ground by an unlooked-for disappointment. Business may prove unsuccessful, and the few hundreds which were your all may be lost in the venture you made. Your own health may fail you. Sight and hearing and strength for work may fail. Those you have depended upon to help you in a rainy day may fail. Yes, and your own heart may fail you, and, like David in the hour of distress, you may fear that you will surely perish in your trouble.
But there is one who fails never. The Great "He," the Great "I" of our text, the Triune Jehovah, the Father who loves you; the Savior who redeemed you, He who is unchangeable, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever; the Blessed Comforter, the Spirit of consolation and peace--here is the presence that will never fail you, but will accompany you right through your journey and bring you in safety to the city of habitation.
Another peculiar beauty of this passage lies in the deep meaning of its negatives. We have no less than five negatives one upon another. To give clear effect to each of these it has been translated, "No, I will not leave you; no, no, I will not forsake you."
But no less powerful is the translation which the Revisers have given us: "I will never fail you, neither will I ever forsake you."
Couple with this the great "never" of reception. To the very end of time anxious, troubled, tempted, sin-burdened souls will rejoice in this, "Him that comes unto Me, I will never cast out" (John 6:37). With such an invitation, who need despair of acceptance with Christ?
Then we have the solemn "never" of exclusion. "There shall never enter into it" (that is the city of God) "anything that defiles, neither whatever works abomination or makes a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Rev. 21:27).
What impenitent, unbelieving soul will ever be able hereafter to pass this barrier, and find access into the home of God's saints?
But in Hebrews 13:5 we have the "never" of God's fidelity to His people. There is no possibility of His failing or forsaking them. Through storm and sunshine, through rough waters and smooth, through the darkness or the light--He remains faithful still.
It may be before this year close one who reads these lines may learn the meaning of trouble as you have never learned it before. You may be all alone, and trial upon trial may come upon you. You may stand like a solitary pillar in the desert, on which every storm and tempest blows. But God Himself will be with you. He will be your refuge and strength. He will never "fail you nor ever forsake you."
It may be that during this year you may be sorely buffeted by the enemy and distressed by the fiery darts of the wicked one. You may walk as under a black cloud when neither sun nor moon nor star appears. You may be driven almost to despair by the remembrance of past sins, or the apparent impossibility of doing right, or by the peculiar difficulties by which you are surrounded. But here is light. God is with you, and though you cannot see a door of escape, He can pierce the dark cloud and open your way and bring you into peace and liberty.
Or, it may be, this year is to close your earthly pilgrimage. You have been following Christ, and looking to Him as your example in life's pathway--but soon you are to follow Him through the valley and the river. Perhaps you shrink back from the prospect. The fear of death has not yet been overcome. But the promise will hold good. The Lord of life and glory will be with you. Timid, nervous, fearful as your spirit is now, He can deliver you from all this. He can make every shadow of alarm flee away and fill you with joy and hope. He can dissipate all gloomy anticipations and shed a heavenly peace within your soul. At least you may expect that He will be so near to you, that you shall not be afraid.
I heard not long ago a mention of the words of an eminent servant of Christ when near to death. He was asked whether "he did not wish to live longer that he might be better prepared to die." But he answered that if he lived twenty years, he "could never have a better Savior than he had at that moment." It is thus the Lord comforts His people. He manifests Himself in His tender mercy and loving kindness. He is seen to be near at hand, meeting all the needs of the soul. "The Lord is your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended."
A practical suggestion or two may close our meditation upon this encouraging promise.
In the light of this promise, and in dependence upon its fulfillment, cast aside all over-anxiety about wealth and the increase of this world's goods. "Be free from the love of money." Why? Because you are so rich already.
I read but a little while ago of a legacy of nearly half a million being left to the Pope. But you have a far greater legacy in this promise. The Lord who owns earth and Heaven is your God, and is pledged to supply all your needs. He will never fail you--and all that He has is yours. Therefore be not anxious about the riches you might accumulate here. They may only prove to be a snare to you or your children.
I have heard of one who was in possession of millions, and at the end he said that a golden wall seemed to block his way and shut him out from the kingdom of Heaven. Therefore put God's kingdom and righteousness first. Do your duty bravely and faithfully in His sight, seeking His favor and His approval in all you do. As to the rest, be perfectly content with His appointment. If He gives you increase of means, hold it with a loose hand, put a large tax upon it for Christian and benevolent objects, and use every shilling of it as a steward who must give account for the talent committed to you.
If, on the other hand, He denies you such means as you would desire, thank Him for the untold wealth He has granted you in His faithful promises. Remember the old saying, "If you cannot bring your circumstances to your mind--bring your mind to your circumstances." Learn the holy art of glad contentment. Go on your way singing of the Savior's grace:
"My Jesus, as You will,
If needy here and poor,
Give me Your people's bread,
Their portion rich and sure.
The manna of Your Word
Let my soul feed upon;
And if all else should fail,
My Lord, Your will be done."
In the strength of this promise go forth bravely, fearlessly, hopefully, into the varying events of the coming year. You know not what the craft of the devil, or the wickedness of man, may purpose against you. You know not where danger may come upon you, or trouble assail you. But you know who is on your side and who will stand by you. Therefore be of good courage. Say in your heart and with your lips, "The Lord is my helper, I will not fear. What can man do unto me?" Come what will, with the Eternal God as your Refuge, the Everlasting arms beneath you, and the All-sheltering wing over you--you may rejoice and be at rest. Let your faith in God's love and care grow and increase. Trust to the Lord utterly. Never doubt that He will still abide with you until this year is past, and every year of your pilgrimage is over, and you sit down in the Father's House.
Then, too, in the strength of this precious promise, be faithful even unto death. Does the living God promise "never to fail or forsake you"? And will not you strive never to "fail or forsake" His cause or His people? If He is so faithful to you--then will not you endeavor to be faithful to the interests of His kingdom and the honor of His name? Surely you will. Day by day go forth into life's battle-field, strong in His strength, to wage war against every enemy of your salvation and every province of the dominion of Satan. Thus make it your aim in some measure to reflect the faithfulness of God. Remember the assurance, "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life!"
"Poor is all that I can offer,
Soul and body while I live;
Take it, O my Savior, take it,
I have nothing more to give.
Come, and in this heart remain,
Let each enemy be slain;
Let me live and die with Thee,
To Your kingdom welcome me!