Remember the Former Days

by James Smith, 1861


Upon whatever object the mind is fixed it is sure to affect the heart. We therefore always direct sinners to the cross, and exhort them to keep the mind fixed on Jesus as suffering the just for the unjust; as dying that the sinner may live. Dying believers, we often point forward, to the rest which remains for the people of God. But sometimes we find it expedient to direct suffering Christians backward to the first stages of their pilgrimage, when they were called to suffer much for the name and cause of Christ. Thus Paul directs the Hebrews, "But call to remembrance the former days, in which after you were illuminated, you endured a great fight of afflictions." Hebrews 10:32.

What Had Been Done for Them? "They had been illuminated." Man, by nature, is in the dark yes, he is darkness. The gospel is sent as a great light, to enlighten those who sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, and wherever it comes it enlightens.

But illumination may be only COMMON, which is simply by the Word; as Paul speaks of some who were once enlightened but who falling away, it was impossible to renew them again unto repentance. Many get light in the head who do not get grace in the heart. They get light into doctrines, ordinances, or duties but they are not led to Christ.

SPECIAL illumination is by the Spirit. The Word is generally the instrument but through the Word, the Spirit enlightens the heart. This was Paul's own experience, as he says, "For God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." Here you see God, who is light, shines he shines in the heart, and so shines as to reveal Christ, and to make him known as the anointed Savior.

This shining into the heart, always appears marvelous, as we read, "Who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."

This spiritual illumination deeply humbles the soul and lays it low in the dust, as it did Job, who said, "I have heard of you with the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees you, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."

This spiritual illumination determines the heart, and brings the soul to Christ, as he said, "It is written in the prophets, and they shall be all taught of God. Everyone therefore who has heard and learned of the Father, comes unto me."

This spiritual illumination removes prejudices, proud reasonings, and carnal misconceptions, "Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ."

This spiritual illumination leads to practical godliness, and devotes the life to Jesus; prompting us to follow on to know the Lord. "The entrance of your word gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I opened my mouth and panted; for I longed for your commandments."

Spiritual illumination, affects our views of every subject: it shows . . .
sin to be hateful,
the law to be holy,
Christ to be lovely,
the world to be empty, and
Heaven to be all desirable.

Reaching the heart it affects the head, and changes and transforms the life. To be thus enlightened, is to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and to become new creatures in Christ Jesus.

What Was Suffered by Them. "They endured a great fight of affliction." Their afflictions were like a conflict with some foe, a great conflict with some terrible foe. They were heavy pressing them down. They were many coming from different quarters. They were various the more calculated to try and dispirit them. But they endured them. They stood patient under them, as under a burden; they endured, realizing that God was present, would support, and make them more than conquerors.

They met them with fortitude as good soldiers; they persevered as those whose hearts were set on the prize. Like the Thessalonians, they received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit yet they had not resisted unto blood striving against sin, and therefore they were very likely to be tried more severely yet. Until we have passed through our last trial, we cannot tell whether we have had our worst trial. But though we do not know that, we do know that the grace of Jesus is sufficient for us, that his strength will be made perfect in our weakness, and that, let what will come as our day, so shall our strength be. Let us not therefore be alarmed at the prospect of trouble, or be terrified by the thoughts of trial; but let us remember the past and with confidence face the future.

What Was Urged upon Them. "Call to remembrance the former days." They were days of severe trial. Then your strength was small, and your knowledge deficient. You had but little experience of the sustaining power of grace, or the faithfulness of God to his people in trouble. You were young disciples, raw recruits, untried pilgrims and yet you stood, fought, and overcame!

Compare the past with the present. You now know much more of your own weakness, and where your great strength lies. You have now much more experience of the power and sweetness of experimental religion.

Improve the comparison against fear. You may be assaulted by fears, and be filled with needless alarms. But if you stood your ground at first, surely you can now. If you triumphed then, why should you despair now? Fear not, for the Lord who is with you, is more than all that can be against you. Never yield but grasp your sword, hold up your battered shield, call upon the great captain of your salvation, and so meet whatever may come upon you. Beware of the first backsliding step. Hold on. Press forward. But never slide back, much less turn the back to the foe or to the trial. Face whatever comes. Meet all that approaches. For you will find that what appeared most formidable in the distance will lose more than half its terrible character when near at hand.

Remember the former days, hold fast that you have, and let no man take your crown. "Whereunto you have already attained, walk by the same rule, mind the same things, and press on toward the mark for the prize of your high calling which is of God in Christ Jesus.

Tribulation you must have. Troubles will come upon you. Dark days and long nights may be before you. Make up your mind to the worst. Force your way through every obstacle. Everything will give way before faith, prayer, and perseverance. You can overcome for grace is provided for you, promised to you, and may be obtained by you. You must overcome if you are to be crowned, enter the holy city, and sit down with Jesus on his throne. Cowards and apostates will be disowned by him. The fearful and unbelieving will be placed in the front rank of those whom he will banish to the lake of fire.

Take heed then, that you lose not the benefit of the past but remember the former days, the trying scenes you have passed through, and take heart, be determined not to quit the field, until you are a conqueror, and more than a conqueror through him who has loved you, and given himself for you. The Hebrews attended to the admonition, and took joyfully the confiscation of their goods, knowing in themselves, that they had in Heaven a better and enduring substance.

Gracious God, give us grace, so to remember the past as to take courage for the future; and grant that we may go on from strength to strength, from stage to stage until we arrive in that better country, where there shall be no troubles to burden us, no afflictions to affect us, no enemies to oppose us but where all will be happiness and peace forever!