"Thou Shalt Remember"

Deuteronomy 8.

In this book the children of Israel are seen almost at the end of their wilderness journey - in fact, on the very borders of Canaan; and occasion is taken to recall their past history, to magnify, on the one hand, God's unfailing faithfulness and love in His governmental ways, and, on the other hand, to recall the constant failure of the people. Together with this, Moses instructed them as to the conditions of enjoyment and blessing in the land which the Lord, according to His promise, was about to give them. "All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers." (v. 1.) There is therefore a certain parallel between the position of Israel at that time and the children of God at the present moment. We, too, are nearing, if we have not arrived at, the end of our pilgrimage; and we are only waiting for the advent of Him who will soon appear the second time without sin unto salvation. It may not be unprofitable, therefore, for us, like Israel, to recall the past, especially at the close of the year, that we may learn somewhat more both of what God is in His unquenchable love, and of what we ourselves are, to the end that our hearts may be filled with praise as we contemplate His inexhaustible patience and grace.

It will be noticed that nothing is to escape our recollection in God's past dealings with us; we are to remember all the way which the Lord has led us in the wilderness, that we may discern more clearly the object He ever had in view in the various sorrows, trials, and afflictions through which we have passed. When in the circumstances which distress us it is seldom that we can estimate them aright, because we do not sufficiently connect them with the Lord's hand, nor keep His end before our souls. Hence the need of surveying the past in order to apprehend the needed lessons. The first thing Moses brought before the minds of the people was the testing God applied to them to see whether they would "keep His commandments or no." And for this it was necessary to humble and to prove them. And why? Because of the incurable character of the flesh, which ever loves to gratify its own inclinations and to exalt itself even in the presence of God. Pride, as well as the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes, lurks in the heart at all times, combined with unbrokenness of will, and even where, sometimes, it is least expected. This will explain many of God's dealings with us. He puts us into trying situations, brings crosses and obstacles across our path, suffers us to have disappointments and adversities, in order that we may know what is in our hearts, and that the flesh is never subject to His word. In one word, He has been teaching us to "keep His commandments"; and to effect this our wills have had to be broken, and we have had to be humbled. Let us not forget it, for then we shall experimentally understand that all things work together for good to them that love God, who are the called according to His purpose.

Secondly, we discover, in reviewing the past, that another object which the Lord had in view was to teach us dependence. "And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live." It must be carefully observed that the first step in this process is also humbling, for the reason that it is the obstinacy of our wills that so often closes our ears to the divine voice. How many years of searching and humbling have we had to go through before we began even to desire to be as clay in the hands of the potter, before we could just lie in the Lord's hand, to be used or not used as He might will! But how tenderly He has borne with us, and how patiently He has waited until we could take the place of dependence upon Him and upon His word! There are two other elements in this lesson - deprivation and secret sustainment; "He suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna." He withheld from us what we craved, and then fed us with heavenly food; and, speaking of Israel, we might add that the Lord did this in spite of their murmurings. So has it been with ourselves. Cannot we recall that even during the past year we have again and again set our hearts upon obtaining something which we deemed necessary? But the Lord loved us too well to allow us to succeed in our desires; but at the same time, when we turned to Him in our disappointment, He so sustained us by the revelation of Himself that we could then praise Him that He had suffered us to hunger - blessed be His name!

In such ways the Lord weans His people from their own wills and from their own efforts, and, making them willing to accept death upon themselves and upon all the objects of the natural man, He leads them on to discover that all blessedness lies in subjection to and in loving His will, and in entire dependence upon His strength to aid His people in this direction. Moses, in the next place, reminds them of the Lord's incessant care in the midst of all their discipline. First, he says, "Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years:" Whatever their hard travel in "that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought," as well as constant enemies, divine power sustained and guarded them on every hand, in token that the eyes of the Lord were ever upon the needs of His people. And not less miraculously, if in another way, have we been provided for and preserved during the past year of our pilgrimage. Our path through the wilderness is intensely individual, and must therefore be attended with experiences personal to ourselves, and known, in their real character, only by Him who has ordered them all in His infinite wisdom and perfect love. But remembering the way by which He has led us, we can surely all testify that, according to His faithful word, He has never left or forsaken us, but, that with every new day mercies without number have surrounded us on every hand. As it has been expressed indeed in the well-known lines -

"Though thy way be long and weary,
Eagle strength He'll still renew:
Garments fresh and foot unweary
Tell how God hath brought thee through."

There is yet another reminder. Moses says, "Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee." (v. 5.) Pondering upon our various trials and sorrows, we are to learn to connect them with the Lord's own hand,. and to understand that they are His selected instrumentalities for needful discipline, that, as the apostle applies it in Hebrews 12, "whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth." "If you endure chastening [more exactly, "It is for chastening ye endure"], God dealeth with you as sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" He tells us, furthermore, that the end of God's chastening is that we might be partakers of His holiness; and this corresponds with the conclusion Moses draws in our chapter: "Therefore thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, to walk in His ways, and to fear Him." How calmly, therefore, we may leave ourselves in the Lord's hands, knowing "that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose; because whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren." To see that the light of God's love is resting upon all our pilgrim path changes the aspect of everything; and when it is perceived that it, with all its accompanying sorrows, is the chosen path towards the accomplishment of God's purpose for His people, we are both comforted and encouraged. As of Israel, it will be said of all of us, "He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation."

In the rest of the chapter it is not remembrance but anticipation, and with this warnings are added. Israel was not yet in the land, and they are exhorted not to forget the source of all their blessing when they should be there, and that their only preservative would lie in obedience to God's commandments, judgments, and statutes. Otherwise the very wealth of their blessings would lead them to pride of heart, forgetfulness of the Lord God their Redeemer, and, together with this, to ascribe their prosperity to their own power and to the might of their own hand, and thus bring themselves under the sure judgment of God. Nothing so proves the perversity of our hearts as the tendency to use the blessings which God so graciously bestows upon us as a means of self-exaltation. May we heed the warning, knowing that in our flesh there dwelleth no good thing, and may we ever seek to be kept in the place of nothingness, as we shall be in proportion as Christ is everything to our souls.