Forward and not Back!

J.R. Miller

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:12-14

It is a good thing to be always face forward. Even nature shows that men's eyes were designed to look always "to the fore," for no man has eyes in the back of his head, as all men certainly would have had if they had been intended to spend much of their time in looking backward. There is a very plain Scriptural injunction on the subject. The wisest of men said, "Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you!" Proverbs 4:25

There is also a striking Scriptural illustration in the greatest of the apostles, who slated the central principle of his active life in the remarkable words, "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." The picture is that of a man running in a race. He eyes only one thing, the goal yonder; he does not trouble himself to look back to see how far he has come, or how far the other runners are behind him; he does not even look to the right or to the left to catch glimpses of his friends who are watching him and cheering him. His eyes look right on to the goal while he bends every energy to the race.

That is the picture Paul drew of himself as a Christian man. He forgot his past, and lived only for the future. We must remember, too, that he was an old man when he wrote the words. We would say that there was but little before him now to live for. The young look forward, naturally, because everything is before them. They live in hope, and as yet leave no memories to draw their eyes and hearts backward and to chain their lives to the past. But old people, who have spent most of their allotted years and have but small margin of earthly life remaining, are much more likely to live almost altogether in the past. The measures of their life are in their memories, and so their eyes and their thoughts are naturally drawn backward rather than forward.

Here was one old man, however, who cared nothing for what was past, and who lived altogether in hope. What was past, was nothing in comparison with what was to come. The best things in his life were all yet to be won; his best achievements were yet to be wrought.

There is something very sublime in such a life, and it ought to have its inspirations for us all. We ought to train ourselves to live by the same rule.

There is a tremendous waste in human energy and in all the powers of human life, in continually turning to look backward. While we stand thus peering back into the mists and shadows of the dead past—the great resistless, never resting tides of life are sweeping on, and we are simply left behind. Few things are sadder than this: men with their powers yet at their best, left behind because they stop and stand and look backward—instead of keeping their eyes to the front, bravely pressing on to things ahead.

In every way it is better to look forward than back. The life follows the eye; we live as we look. But what is there ever behind us to live for? There is no work there to do—no tasks wait there for accomplishment. No opportunities for helpfulness or usefulness lie in the past. Opportunities never linger about when once they have passed, for tardy laggards to come and seize them. Gone once, they have gone forever. We cannot impress ourselves in any way upon the past. The records which are written all over the pages of yesterday, were made when yesterday was today. We cannot make any change on the past. We can undo nothing, correct nothing, change nothing.

We may get a measure of inspiration from other deeds past—as we study their biographies, their achievements, and grasp the secrets of their power.

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing leave behind as
Footprints in the sands of time.

Then we may get something also from our own past, in the lessons of experience which we have learned. Still all this benefit that comes out of the past avails only when it becomes impulse and energy for sending us forward the more resistlessly.

Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, act in the living Present.

We should never waste a moment in looking back at our past attainments. Yet there are people who never do anything else. They never have anything but old heroisms or achievements to talk about. They are talkative enough concerning the great things they have done, but it was always long ago that they did them. All the grand and fine things in their life, are little more than traditions. Their religious experiences, also, are of long ago, and they seem never seem to have any new ones. Their testimonies and their prayers in the meetings are quite like the tunes of street organs—the same always, every time you hear them. They never get a new tune, not even a new and revised edition of the old. With mechanical invariableness and endless repetition, they relate the same experiences year after year. They can tell you a great deal about what they felt and what they did a long while ago, but not a word about what they felt or did yesterday.

The utter inadequacy and unworthiness of such living are apparent at a glance. No past glory avails for the living present. Suppose that a man had ecstatic experiences ten or twenty years ago—ought he not to have had still more ecstatic experiences every year since? Suppose he did a noble thing twenty-five years ago—what business has he sounding the praises of that one lone deed year after year? Ought he not to have done just as fine things all along his life, as he did on that particular day not long ago?

The true ideal life is one that does its best every day, and sees ever in tomorrow, an opportunity for something better than today. It has its image in the tree which drops its ripe fruits in the autumn and forgets them, leaving them to be food for the hungry while it immediately begins to prepare for another year's fruits.

What an abnormal thing it would be for an apple tree to bear one abundant crop and then never again produce anything but a few scattered apples annually—hanging lonesome on the wide spreading branches, while the tree boasted year after year in its superb yield of long ago! Is such a life any more fitting for a man, than an apple tree? We should never content ourselves with past experiences. Not back, but forward should our eyes be bent. The years should be ladder-steps upward, each lifting us higher. Even death should not intercept the onward look, for surely, for a Christian, the best things are always ahead, beyond death's mists. Death is not a wall cutting off the life; it is a gate, an open gate—through which the life sweeps on into eternity.

The eyes, therefore, should never look back—but always ahead. No past should have the charm of satisfaction for an earnest soul. The soul's joys are not there, but on ahead. Even the friends it has lost are not behind, but waiting in advance. Sorrow, instead of standing weeping by dark graves where its dead are not—should lift its eyes to Heaven where its dead really are, among the living—meanwhile pouring all the force of its grief into fresh life and noble service for God and for humanity. The empty hands, instead of being folded in sad idleness—should find new tasks of comforting and blessing, and new service for the living.

"Look forward and not back!" Live to make tomorrow bright and beautiful, not to stain yesterday with tears of regret and grief.