It is never wise is live in the past. There are uses to be made of our past which are helpful and which bring blessing. We should remember our past lost condition—to keep us humble and faithful. We should remember our past failures and mistakes—that we may not repeat them. We should remember past mercies—that we may have confidence in new needs or trials in the future. We should remember past comforts—that there may be stars in the sky when night comes again.
But while there are the true uses of memory one should guard against living in the past. We should draw our life's inspirations not from memory—but from hope; not from what is gone—but from what is yet to came. Forgetting the things which are behind, we should reach forth unto those things which are ahead.
Take a single point at present: we should forget past sorrows. There are many people who live in the shadows of their past sorrows, griefs and losses. Yet nothing could be more hurtful.
What would we say of the man who would build a house for himself out of black stones, paint all the walls black, hang black curtains over the darkly-stained windows, put black carpets on every floor, decorate the door with funeral crape, have sad pictures on walls and sad books on the shelves, and have no plants growing and no flowers blooming anywhere in his home?
Yet that is how some people live. They build houses for their soul just like that. They have memories sieves, which let all sweet and joyous things run through—and retain only the sad and bitter things. They forget every pleasant thing, but the painful events they always remember. They can tell you troubles by the hour—troubles they had many years ago. They keep their old wounds unhealed in their hearts. They have photographs of all their sorrows and calamities, and of all their lost joys; but they keep in mind none of their glad things. The result is that living in these perpetual glooms and shadows, the brightness passes out of their lives—and they even lose the power of seeing joyous and lovely things.
The lesson is, that we ought to let the dead past bury its dead—while we go on to new duties and seek new joys. We cannot get back what we have lost by weeping over the grave where it is buried. Besides, sadness does not give any blessing. It makes no heart softer, it brings out no new feature of Christlikeness; it only embitters our present joys and stunts the growth of all beautiful things in the soul. The graces of the heart are like flower plants—they will not bloom in the darkness, but must have sunshine.
A mother lost by death, a lovely daughter. She had been for a long time a consistent Christian—but when her child died, she refused to be comforted. Her pastor and other Christian friends sought by tender sympathy to draw her thoughts away from her grief, yet all to no purpose. She refused to see anything but her sorrow. She spent portions of nearly every day beside the grave where her dead child was buried. She would listen to no words of consolation. She would not lift an eye towards the Heaven into which her believing child had gone. She went back no more to the sanctuary where in the days of her joy, she had so loved to worship. She shut out of her heart every conception of God's love and kindness, and thought of him only as a powerful being who had torn her sweet child away from her bosom.
Thus dwelling in the darkness of inconsolable grief, the joy of her religion left her. Hope's bright visions no longer cheered her, and her heart grew cold and sick with despair. She refused to give up her sorrow, and to go on to new joys and towards the glory where all earth's lost things are found.
As illustrating the other way of dealing with sorrow, consider the mother who lost a child—one of the rarest and sweetest of children. Never was a heart more thoroughly crushed than was the heart of this mother. But she did not sit down in gloom and dwell there. She did not shut out the sunshine, and thrust away the blessing of comfort. She recognized the Father's hand in the grief which had fallen so heavily upon her. She opened her heart to the glorious truths of eternity, and thought of her precious believing child as being with Jesus.
She remembered also, that she had duties to the living, and turned away from the grave where her little one slept in such safety, to serve those who needed her care and love. The result was that her life grew richer and more beautiful beneath this baptism of sorrow. She came from the deep shadow, as a lovelier Christian—and the whole community shared the blessing which she had found in her sorrow.
Every Christian should do likewise. We should forget what we have suffered. The joy set before us should shine upon our souls, as the sun shines through the dark clouds. We should sacredly and tenderly cherish the memory of our Christian dead, but we should think of them as in the eternal home of the blessed—safely folded, and waiting for us. Thus the bright hopes of glory should fill us with tranquility and healthy gladness as we move over the waves of trial.
We should remember that the blessings which have gone away, are not all that God has for us. The summer's flowers will all fade by and by—when winter's cold breath smites them. We shall not be able to find one of them in the fields and gardens during the long dreary months. Yet we shall know all the while, that God is preparing other flowers—just as fragrant and beautiful as those which have perished. Spring will come again, and under its warm breath, the earth will again be covered with rich floral beauty as lovely as that which perished in winter.
In the same way, the joys that have faded from our homes and hearts are not the only joys. God has others in store just as rich and as fragrant as those we have lost—and in time he will give us these. Then in Heaven will bestow unspeakable joys, which never shall be taken away.
We should, therefore, forget the sorrowful things of the past, and reach forth to the joys which await us on the earth, and to eternal blessings which await us in Heaven. In the darkest night we should look up and forget darkness, as we gaze upon the bright stars.