Thomas Spurgeon short sermons
Lest We Forget
"Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them." Deuteronomy 4:9
How good a gift is memory! Of all the gracious benefits conferred on mortal men by God — there is none more useful, and none more precious. By memory we are enabled to lay by a store of precious thoughts and gracious reminiscences against the days to come. By memory we can stud our minds with promises and precepts from the Word of God, as the midnight heavens are studded with the twinkling of stars.
But alas! memory has fallen with the rest of our powers. Do you not know from sad experience how readily evil is retained? When you would gladly erase it from the page — the dark letters still appear. Things that we thought we had with a tenacious grip are torn away from us, or slip from our grasp, and the place that knew them knows them no more. Our memories have failed us. By a good memory I mean a memory that lets slip that which is not worth holding — and holds as with a death grip that which is most worth preserving.
I. Notice first, that God graciously gives warning of the danger. Is not this gracious of Him?
He knows us thoroughly — better, far better, than we know ourselves. The people of His choice were prone to forget Him — therefore He constantly sounded this warning note. To them, I suppose, it seemed impossible, certainly improbable, that they would forget the things that their eyes had seen. Forget Egypt, the furnace of iron? You would have thought that these experiences had been burned into them by the very fire of the furnace through which they passed! Forget their redemption and deliverance, the night of the Passover, and the passage of the Red Sea? Forget God, who had delivered them times out of number, who had spoken to them out of the midst of the fire?
This same sad principle holds good today. We used to think that the experiences of our early Christian life would linger with us and influence us for good through all our days. As one who says "I will remember," and makes a knot in his handkerchief in order to assist his memory, and then forgets why he made the knot. In the same way, our efforts to remember God and the things of God have proved fruitless. Are you not aware — let it be a matter for sorrowful confession if so — that you have sometimes forgotten that you have been purged from your old sins? You have been indulging in them again. The peril still exists, but to be forewarned is to he forearmed.
Moreover, God knows just when and where this peril is likely to be greatest. If you will turn to Deuteronomy 6, you will understand my meaning better. "When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you — a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant — then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." Deuteronomy 6:10-12
There is much meaning in the "then." There is no season so perilous, in this particular, as the season of prosperity. The fear is that when all things are crowding into us — God should be crowded out. You will find it comparatively easy to remember God and to recollect His dealings with you in the past — when laid upon a bed of sickness, or when bereaved or in serious trouble. Sometimes God permits these painful dispensations to give us a pause in the rush of life, and opportunity to call to remembrance.
II. He supplies valuable instruction. He does not content Himself with waving a red flag before us — He stops the train, and gives instructions to the driver and the guard. "Take heed to yourself!" It means literally, "Be watchful." This is just where we fail, as a rule — the watchtower is deserted. Strengthen the guard rather than reduce it, and see to it that everything that would enter the mind is challenged as it approaches, and that all that would go out that should remain within the walls, is prevented from passing through the portals.
"Keep your soul diligently." It is the same idea as we have already mentioned. As one might call to another whom he saw to be in danger, "Look out! look out!" Here is a further instruction, "Teach them thy sons, and your son's sons." "For whose benefit, do you think, is this instruction given? for that of the sons and of the grandsons? Yes, truly; but do they reap all the benefit? I tell you, sirs, one of the best ways to remember things that are most worth remembering, is to pass them on to others.
III. I have this further to say, that he provides welcome aids to memory. He remembers our frame, He knows that we are but dust — therefore does He come to our assistance. He calls us like little children to His kindergarten school, and makes the learning easy. There are ways of schooling the mind and training the memory — there are certain aids and helps. The law of association serves a good purpose in this respect, and object lessons lend always a pleasing support. Certainly it is so in the things of God.
To Israel God gave the Passover, constantly repeating it to remind them of that wondrous night when He brought them out of the house of bondage with a high hand and an outstretched arm. To Israel He gave the varied rituals of the Mosaic dispensation, that they might never forget the doctrines of sin and of salvation, and that without the shedding of blood there is no remission. To Israel He gave the ark, in which was the pot of manna, Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of stone. All these were aids to memory.
After just this fashion God deals with His spiritual Israel, providing aids to memory, lest we forget. Heavenly influences are with us constantly: angel ministries work for our help and support; holy exercises, if we do but engage in them in the right spirit, tend in the same direction. Prayer brings us to the mercy seat, and sends us full-handed home. Praise puts a harp into our hands, and causes us to sing our thankfulness to God. The ordinances of worship and opportunities for service all help to keep us in touch with Heaven, and to keep our hearts aglow with godliness.
The Word is one of God's aids to memory. You can hide the Word of the Lord in your heart, lest you forget.
I would have you remember, too, that the ordinances that the Savior has established are for this same purpose. Think of believers' baptism. The Lord's Supper is instituted for this same purpose; it is a reminder of all that has passed in connection with our spiritual experience. "This do," said He, "in remembrance of Me." How often we pray the prayer of the dying thief, "Lord, remember me!" It is a right good prayer. Mothers may forget their children, rather than that Jesus should have us out of His mind; but I tell what is possible — that you and I should forget Him.
The Eternal Purpose
"Before our eyes the LORD sent miraculous signs and wonders — great and terrible — upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But he brought us out from there — to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers." Deuteronomy 6:22-23
A glance at the text will suffice to show that the honor of Israel's redemption, from beginning to end, is due to Israel's God. No mention is made of any other power — God and God alone is responsible for Israel. 'Twas He who brought His people out — 'twas He also that led them in. So may it be with us, for our salvation, too, is of the Lord.
The other thought is almost as manifest, namely, that God's redemptive work, from its initial stage to its glorious consummation, is a scheme or plan which He conceived in His loving heart, and wrought out by His mighty hand. It is not the result of chance, nor of casual thought. It is no experiment, no afterthought — but the outcome of a settled and unalterable purpose. "He brought us out — that He might bring us in."
I. Salvation Is of God. Israel's redemption, from first to last, was Jehovah's doing. Notice that the Lord our God in the matter of our salvation, both brings us out and brings us in. From Him we received our first convictions — 'tis He who wakes within the slumbering soul the earliest desire for better things. And just as certainly as that God works in us those earliest aspirations and desires — so certainly does He crown the work at last.
1. Note, first, that He brings us OUT. How was it with these people in the early days? We have here a short record of their wonderful experience. "We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt." "The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand." They would have tarried still among the brick kilns, if the Lord had not interposed on their behalf. He heard their cry. The things that accompany our salvation are not less remarkable, than the wonders God wrought in the land of Egypt. He has had pity, and shown His mighty power to us. His compassions have not failed in our case — and He has wrought miracles that eclipse altogether the wonders that the Hebrews saw.
2. Equally true is it that He brings us IN. Canaan was a long way from Egypt, but the Lord had determined to do the work thoroughly. It was not enough to cross the Red Sea, nor even to pass the desert; the chosen people must ford the Jordan, and enter the promised land. Oh, believe me, the Lord is prepared to do just this in the realm of spirituals for all His believing people. Whom He justifies — those He also sanctifies; and whom He sanctifies — those He also glorifies. He is all our salvation, and all our desire. At the first He gives us by His Spirit all needed grace that we may come repentingly, look believingly, and go on our way rejoicingly. 'Tis He produces joy, and peace, and hope, and love.
II. This Salvation Is the Result of Planning. God's purpose and God's power go together. As I have told you already, there was a divine plan at the back of all this. They did not happen or come to pass by chance; they were all devised and designed by the loving Father. I do not think that we should marvel particularly at this.
We ourselves have plans and purposes. They do not always come off as we desire, it is true; too often we fail to see what we have hoped to view, and our best laid plans deceive and disappoint us. Not so with God; all that He arranges, surely comes to pass, for His power and His purpose go hand in hand. Now apply this to our case and to spiritual things.
1. Thank God there was a loving thought in His dear heart. I know not when it first sprang up. God has never been anything but love, and I cannot conceive that there could ever have been a time when He had not set His heart upon the salvation of men whom He would yet create, and who He knew would sin. You do not wonder either, that, having such a thought in His heart toward us — it found expression in words.
2. The gracious promise proclaimed the loving purpose.
3. Then came the mighty deed, the baring of his arm, the showing of His mighty power, the deliverance of His people from the heel of the tyrant — a deliverance so complete that they did not leave so much as a hoof behind them. Not they and their children merely, but their cattle and their livestock were all delivered from the house of bondage.
4. Then began the ceaseless care of Jehovah towards His people. He did not lead them over the Red Sea — that He might forsake them in the desert; nor did He conduct them across the desert — that He might see them drown in the Jordan. No, no! He led them all the way! Nothing interfered with His purpose; there were obstacles, but He overcame them. He did not bring them out from Egypt merely as a demonstration of His power. This was only the first step and stage in the glorious process of complete deliverance for Israel, and of the fulfilling of a gracious promise ratified by oath to Abraham.
He did not bring them out that He might slay them in the wilderness, as the enemies of Israel insinuated when they heard how He punished them. Certainly He did not bring them out that they might go back again, as they themselves, alas! were prepared to do when they got into difficulties. Grace is glory in the bud.
"Eli's daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and near the time of delivery. When she heard the news that the Ark of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she went into labor and gave birth, but was overcome by her labor pains. As she was dying, the women attending her said, 'Don't despair; you have given birth to a son.' But she did not respond or pay any attention. She named the boy Ichabod, saying, 'The glory has departed from Israel' — because of the capture of the Ark of God and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband. She said: 'The glory has departed from Israel, for the Ark of God has been captured.'" 1 Samuel 4:19-22
These Old Testament histories have a permanent meaning, and an up-to-date application. God deals with the Church today, as He dealt with Israel in days gone by. The spiritual Israel, is akin to the natural and the national Israel.
Well, the Church of God, the chosen seed, is doubtless suffering defeat today. I doubt very much if the Church is even holding its own today. I believe in the final triumph of Christianity, I am sure that Christ will reign from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth; but I confess that if I look candidly and without prejudice at the signs of the times I am bound to say that here and there if not everywhere — spiritual Israel is getting the worst of it, and the Church of God is being beaten slowly back.
Be sure of this — the fault is not with God. You know the advice of these elders of Israel. They decided that the Ark of the covenant, which was resident at Shiloh — should be brought into the battle, and that the battle should be renewed with this as the standard. Surely, they thought, victory would then result. The mischief was deeper than the elders of Israel imagined; it was not to be cured by the presence even of the Ark of the covenant. That seemed only to add to the disaster, for itself was taken prisoner, and the two licentious sons of Eli, who bore it into the battle, who, we may believe, fought bravely for its preservation — were slain nearby the outspread wings of the golden cherubim. Wherein did the mistake of these people consist? I think we shall find that it was a three-fold error.
I. in the first place, they acted on human impulse — instead of on divine command. A distinct command is recorded that when once Israel was settled in the land of promise — the Tabernacle, along with the Ark, should remain at a fixed place. It was not to be brought to the people. The people were to be humble enough to come to it. In this case, therefore, if they were not distinctly disobeying God's command — then they were acting without a Divine injunction, and this is always a dangerous venture. We may be as disobedient by acting without a command — as we can be by actually running in the face of a distinct injunction. We cannot be too precise. Let us do what God has bidden us to do — and nothing else. Let there be no alteration of God's way. Do not add to the ordinances — nor detract from them. Make no addition to — or adulteration in the doctrines. Do not imagine that zeal or enthusiasm will suffice.
You Christian workers, there are a hundred plans for doing work for God today of which we have to ask first of all, "Has God appointed this?" If we inquire of the Lord before we go down to the battle, and before we take any weapon in our hands — certain of those things which are most approved by men will be found not to have the warrant of Scripture, and to be therefore mere wooden swords — which, whereas they may inspire some enthusiasm, mainly because they are our own manufacture — will be broken at the first onslaught of the foe. So much for Israel's first mistake. Let us not do likewise.
Ii. Secondly, and still more seriously, they substituted the symbolic for the spiritual. Therein they grieved the Spirit of God, therein they played the fool exceedingly — after the fashion of the dog in the fable, who let go his goodly joint of meat that he might grasp the shadow.
Now, it must be admitted that the Ark was, by Divine institution, a symbol of God's presence. The contents also pointed in the same direction; but these people, elders though they were — and who can wonder that the multitude went wrong when their leaders were astray? — these people confused the symbol with the Presence itself. This superstition was the natural result of the decay of religion.
I venture to say that the Israelites in this case were little better than the Philistines themselves. The Philistines, if I mistake not, had images of their gods in the battle by way of standards and flags — and Israel seems to have said, "We must have a standard, too, we must have in our midst a symbol of our God." They craved for something tangible and visible.
Nor are we less guilty, who forget that our religion is altogether spiritual, that our warfare and its weapons are spiritual. We are not less guilty who mistake external religious forms for internal power. We are not less blameworthy who, having a form of godliness, deny the power thereof.
How careful some are of the externals. I believe in creeds, but oh, it is an awful thing to have a creed only. A religion of the head — does not cleanse the heart! A religion that touches only externals — evidently does not affect the internals; and the heart and the soul are the things with which we have to do. Thank God for the Sabbath, but a rigid observance of the Sabbath is not enough; we need to be in the Spirit on the Lord's Day.
III. But there was another mistake, deeper than either of these. They failed to perceive that sin was the secret of defeat — sin on the part of Eli's two sons — sin on his own part — and sin, if I mistake not, which was shared in by all the people, for there is an indication in Psalm 78, which speaks of that time, that the people were estranged from God. This it was that weakened their arms, and prevented their success.
Even Balaam could not curse God's people, though he longed to do it. Why? Because there was no iniquity in them, because God Himself beheld no perverseness in them. Therefore Balaam had to say, "The Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them."
These people shouted, but it was not the shout of a king; it was the shout of presumption, and therefore closely preceded and heralded a disastrous defeat.
A worldly Church is near unto being cursed by God. A grieved God, means a conquered Church.
I tell you the Ark itself is valueless, if there is an Achan in the camp.
Do you know that in this same place God wrought wondrously a little later. Read the story, at your leisure, in chapter 1 Samuel 7. It is only a chapter or two further on than this, but oh how the scene has changed. Ichabod then gave place to Ebenezer. The days of the Church will brighten and her power be as of yore — when she comes back to primitive practices and doctrines, and to the old-time holiness, and to zeal for God, love for souls, and reverence for the Holy Spirit!
"The priest replied, 'The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here — it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one.' David said, 'There is none like it — give it to me.'" 1 Samuel 21:9
I. First, then, notice the history of Goliath's sword.
See it, in the first instance, hanging at the giant's side. The man himself is mighty. Hark how he challenges the armies of Israel.
The after history of this sword is interesting. What became of it after David, having no sword of his own, put it to the giant's throat and cut off his head with it? It was Goliath's no longer — it was David's, really. It is evident that he was not content to have it ornamenting his own residence — he would give it to the Lord. He found it in his heart to hang the sword in the Holy Place, that God might have the glory.
What happened next? Why, long afterwards, when David needed a sword, God gave this very weapon back to him. Nobody is ever the poorer for lending to the Lord. God gave the sword back to David in the hour of his extremity.
Now I want to say to you, that surely you remember some great deliverance of days gone by. You remember the weapons with which God enabled you to carve your way through obstacles which you supposed must overwhelm you. You are getting into a tight place again, are you? Well, call to mind the previous experience — grasp the old sword, and trust the same, unchanging God. Use the promise that helped you out before.
II. But we shall get still further blessing, when we think of this sword from a spiritual point of view. These things may well be called an allegory. The war is still being waged. The Philistine is still in the land.
And what is David's sword? The sword is God's Word, Divine Truth, the Gospel of the Grace of God. "For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart!" Hebrews 4:12. We do not need another weapon. There is nothing to induce us to try another. We have watched the others trying them. They have had such poor success, that it makes us the more content with the old Jerusalem blade.
Going and Growing Great
"And David went on, and grew great, because the LORD God Almighty was with him." 2 Samuel 5:10
David went on growing. His activities were not fruitless. There are some people who do a deal of the going, but all too little of the growing. We need both of these. There must not merely be the signs of activity, but there must really be actual improvement and development. A wind-mill is always going, but it never gets any further forward; no blame to the wind-mill, for it is doing its business by simply going round. A door is constantly moving on its hinges, creaking, perhaps, as well, but it makes no progress. Still, there it stands, day after day. This is all right for the door — but all wrong for you. Keep on going, but see to it that the growing is not neglected either.