Turning Northward # 3
If you have done anything good, worthy, or great in the past - forget it! It belongs to the last year and adorned it - but it will not be an honor for this year. Each year must have its own adornments. However, fine any past achievements of ours may have been, they should be forgotten and left behind. We are to go on to perfection, making every year better than the one before. Dissatisfaction with what we have done, spurs us ever to greater things in the future.
We should forget also the SINS of the past. Somehow many people think that their sins are the very things they never should forget. They feel that they must remember them, so that they shall be kept humble. But remembering our sins, weaving their memories into a garment of sackcloth and wearing it continually - is the very thing we ought not to do. Do we not believe in the forgiveness of our sins, when we have repented of them? God tells us that our sins and our iniquities, he will remember no more forever. We should forget them, too, accepting the divine mercy, and since they are so fully forgiven by our Father, our joy should be full.
One of the Psalms tells us of being brought up out of a horrible pit, and our feet set upon a rock. Then comes the song beginning: "He has put a new song in my mouth" - rejoicing instead of hopeless grief over sin. Brood not a moment over your old sins. Circle the mountain no longer, but turn northward! Turn your penitence into consecration. Burn out the shame of your past evil, in the fires of love and new devotion!
These are suggestions of the meaning of Paul's secret of noble life. Of course we should never leave behind us and throw away anything that is good and beautiful. The blossom fades and falls, but from it comes the fruit. In the most transient experiences, there are things that remain - influences, impressions, inspirations, elements of beauty, glimpses, of better things. These we should keep as part of life's permanent treasures.
Paul did not mean that in forgetting the things that were behind, he threw away the lessons of experience. In leaving the mountain and turning northward, the people did not leave the mountain behind them - they carried it with them. One never can forget a mountain nor lose the gifts it puts into one's life.
But all that is evanescent and transient is to be forgotten, left behind, while we move on to new things. Forget the things that are behind. Move entirely out of the past. It is gone, and you have nothing whatever more to do with it. If it has been unworthy - then it should be abandoned for something worthy. If it has been good - then it should inspire us to things yet better.
"You have circled this mountain long enough. Turn northward!" Paul also teaches this in the other word which he uses in his plan of progressive life. First, forget everything that is past. Then STRAINING TOWARD THAT WHICH IS AHEAD. What are these things that are ahead, to which we ought to strain. The answer may be given in a phrase - growth in spiritual life. Jesus told His disciples he had come that they might have life. We have no life until we receive it from Christ. Christ is the fountain from which all life flows. His own heart broke on the Cross that we might receive life, His life. Nothing will meet our need but life. A picture may seem perfect, but it is only a picture; it has no life.
There is a story of a sculptor who had chiseled a statue in marble and set it before a church in Florence. Michael Angelo was asked to see it. He stood before the marble and was amazed at the success of the young artist. Every feature was perfect. The brow was massive. Intelligence beamed from the eyes. One foot was in the act of moving as if to step forward. Gazing at the splendid marble figure, Angelo said, "Now, march!" No higher compliment could the great artist have paid to the statue in marble. Yet there was no response. The statue was perfect in all the form of life, but there was no life in it. It could not march.
In the same way, it is possible for us to have all the semblance of life in our religious profession, in our orthodoxy of belief, in our morality, in our Christian achievements, in our conduct, in our devotion to the principles of right and truth - and yet not have life in us. Life is the great final blessing we should seek.
Not life merely, not just a little of it, but fullness of life. Jesus said he had come that we might have life, and might have it abundantly. The turning northward was that the people might exchange the wilderness for Canaan. The wilderness meant emptiness, barrenness, sin's bitter harvest. Canaan was a figure of Heaven. What does turning northward mean for us today? It means a larger and holier Christian life. Note some definite elements in its meaning: We rejoice in all that God has done for us in the past. We are grateful for the blessings we have received. But we are only on the edge of the spiritual possibilities that are within our reach. We are in danger of sitting down in a sort of quiet contentment, as if there were no farther heights to be reached.
"You have been going about this mountain long enough. Turn northward!" Northward is toward new and greater things, larger spiritual good, more abundant life. It means something intensely practical and real. It is a call to holier life. We must be holier men, better women, better Christians. We must be more noble in Christian character. The abundant life must be pure. One man wrote on a New Year's eve, that he wanted to be a purer man in the new year than ever before. "How I long to be pure all through! What a blessed life that would be!" We need all and always to seek the same purity. It must begin within. "Blessed are the pure in heart."
A little story tells of a man who was washing a large plate glass in a show window. There was one soiled spot on the glass which defied all his efforts to cleanse it. After long and hard rubbing at it, with soap and water, the spot still remained, and then the man discovered that the spot was on the inside of the glass. In the same way, there are many people who are trying to cleanse their lives from stains by washing the outside. They cut off evil habits and cultivate the moralities, so that their conduct and character shall appear white. Still they find spots and flaws which they cannot remove. The trouble is within. Their hearts are not clean, and God desires truth in the inward parts.
There is a story of a mother who had lost a beautiful child. She was inconsolable, and, to occupy her hands with something about her beloved child, in order that she might find comfort, she began to color a photograph of the precious little one. Her fingers wrought with wonderful skill and delicacy, and at length the face in the photograph seemed to have in it all the winsome beauty of life. The child appeared to the mother to live again before her eyes. When the work was done,she laid the picture away for a time in a drawer. When she took it out by and by, to look at it, the face was covered with blotches and the beauty was sadly marred. Again the mother took her brush, and with loving skill painted out the spots and touched the picture afresh, until once more the face had all its beauty. Then again the photograph was laid away,and when it was brought out the blotches were there as before. There was some fault in the paper on which the likeness was printed.
~J. R. Miller~
(continued with # 4)