There are so many precious gifts God has given mankind, but perhaps one of the great gifts often overlooked is the gift of memory.
Memory knows neither time nor distance. The human mind can in an instant make the treasures of the past seem real again. This gift can make the memories of childhood live again. Memory will allow us to relive the pleasant days of the past. It can restore the blessedness we knew when we first obeyed the gospel. It can reunite hearts separated by death. It is the word that can bring much peace, happiness, and joy to our souls. Someone has said that God gave us memory that we might have roses in December.
Even so, the same word can be bitter. It can bring back the pains of sin. It can allow us to dwell on some event of the past we cannot forget and cannot forgive ourselves for having done this bitter deed. Through memory, we will not forgive ourselves, even though God has forgiven us. When misused, this word can bring much misery to our lives and harm to our physical, mental and, worst of all, to our spiritual health. It is the word that can destroy peace and contentment in our lives.
Let us turn to the word of God and see how this word is used. The biographies of some of the men of the Bible vividly illustrate this word.
One of the finest examples of memory was that of Joseph. Banished from his father’s home, exile, slavery, false accusations, and some time in prison would have made Joseph’s lot terrible, except for his memory. Memory was the lamp to light his way through years of misery and unhappiness. It was also memory to which he clung in time of great temptation: Memory of his ancestral religion, memory of his father Jacob’s face. It was also memory that kept his heart true and tender toward his brothers. Yes, Joseph’s life teaches us many valuable lessons on the sweetness of the word memory.
Perhaps a word most often used by God in dealing with the children of Israel was memory. He constantly exhorted them to remember. In their wilderness wanderings, they were told again and again to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt, and how God had blessed them with deliverance. When they murmured, complained, and even rebelled against God and Moses, they were reproved and told to remember how God had fed them with manna from heaven, given them water out of a rock, and guided them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. This memory was later recanted by the apostle Paul when he revealed that the Rock that followed them was Christ (1 Cor 10:1-4). Years later, when they were settled in the land of Canaan, they were told over and over to remember God’s great work in the conquest of the enemy and remember that they had been given the land promised to them by their father Abraham. Above all, memory was the keyword pertaining to God’s law, that they were to keep it, obey it, and let it not depart from them that they might live and enjoy all the rich blessings of God.
What a great lesson for the Christian. We should hold in memory the goodness and mercy of God. We should remember his blessings of salvation and his “exceeding great and precious promises” (2 Pet. 1:4). Yes, memory is a sweet word and is one of the great blessings especially enjoyed by the people of God.
One of the most striking examples of a bitter memory is described by Jesus in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The sadness of this account comes when we find Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom and the rich man in torment. That tremendous saying of Jesus put in Abraham’s mouth was, “Son, remember” (Luke 16:25). But it was too late! He was told to remember his past rich life, but now nothing could be done to change his state. This rich man in torment also remembered his brothers and wanted them warned lest they come to this place, but again, it could not be done.
What a sad and dreadful plight in the day of judgment when those who, in this life, refused God and his generous offer of salvation to find themselves in torment to remember what they turned down in this life. But again, it will be too late for their destiny is sealed.
What a stern and forceful warning John made to two of the churches of Asia. To the church at Ephesus, the church that had left its first love, he admonishes: “Remember therefore where you are fallen and repent and do your first works” (Rev. 2:5). And almost the same was said to the church at Sardis, the dead church, “Remember therefore how you have received and did hear, and keep it, and repent” (Rev. 3:3).
What a great need of memory in many churches today. If they would only remember the former days and see how far adrift they have come and would repent, what great changes would occur.
It was memory that convicted Peter of his grievous sin of denying the Lord three times, for when the rooster crowed, “Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, `before the rooster crows you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly” (Matt 26:74-75).
It is memory that convicts us of sin and brings us to a deep repentance as it did Peter when we sin against our Lord.
I have no doubt, too, that the remorse of Judas, when he threw the blood money down before the high priest and went out and hanged himself, was remorse created by memory (Matt 27:3-5).
Yes, memory is both a sweet and bitter word. Sweet memories will come if we will discipline ourselves to cherish up those pleasant memories of the past. We should never dwell on, but use those bitter memories as stepping stones to help us do better. Then our lives will be lived joyously, happily and above all, pleasingly to God. May we make it our goal to commit to memory the love and mercy of Christ and his death on the cross for our sins. This let us do each first day of the week in memory of the great sacrifice Jesus made for us (Acts 20:7). May we always remember how God in Christ forgives and forgets our sins when we repent and turn from them. May we always remember the promises of the beauties and joys of heaven and let these memories ever push us upward and onward toward the goal.