And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me…
One of the appalling obstacles between sinful men now, and their eternal blessedness hereafter, is the indestructible fact of the memory of sin. The poet Dante, as he wandered through the forest of the terrestrial paradise, came to a stream which on the one side was called Lethe, and on the other Eunoe, for it possessed the double virtue to take away remembrance of offence, and to bring remembrance back of every good deed done. Immersed in Lethe's wave he forgets his fault, and from Eunoe's stream he returned
E'en as new plants renew'd with foliage new,
Pure and made apt for mounting to the stars."Where flows, then, the stream of happy forgetfulness? A poet's dream may not beguile us; — what are the facts, the stem, unchangeable facts of memory? Is memory an unalterable record of life? Shall the shadow of this earth always lie before us upon our path? The facts of memory are these. The mind of man is a chamber of memories — a hall of echoes — a gallery of endless whispers — a house haunted by shades of the past. The mind is one labyrinth of memories — like a catacomb of the dead. Recollection is as the torch in the traveller's hand through this endless labyrinth of memory; but memory itself is the receptacle of all our past. There is a place in it for all the deeds done in the body. All that the mind has been used for remains a memory wrought into its own structure and form. No ingenuity of human art has ever invented to watch the watchman a self-registering machine so accurate, so constant, so unalterably true, as is the human brain — God's register of the deeds done in the body. Carry now this truth one step further. If in the present physical basis of life there m provision made for memory; if matter so gross as the brain can become the register of the mind; much more may memory be continuous and comprehensive in the spiritual embodiment of the soul; much more shall it be made perfect in the resurrection. The form shall be broken up, and they shall be distributed, dust to dust, and earth to earth; but the soul shall have taken, before this bodily form is broken up, the copy of this mortal life and its deeds, and hence shall continue with the impression of it stamped upon it for ever. But this is not all. Not only do we have in our own organisation a memory of ourselves which we cannot tear from us, but also the universe has a memory of us. The memory of men's lives is a part of the universe. The record of our life is a line written in the book of things. It belongs to nature. We cannot blot it out. And if we carry this truth of memory still further and higher, we rise to the conception of the unalterable memory of the Eternal. Can God forget? Can God put our sin out of His eternal remembrance? This is not simply a question of power over will. It is not simply a question as to what an Almighty God can do; but what God as an infinitely perfect moral Being will do. There are those who tell us that God out of His mere benevolence van forgive sin, and open the heaven of His holy presence to the sinner who would return. Yes, so might a kind human friend say to one who had done him wrong, "I do not care; you may come back at any time and sit at my table if you please; I will not speak of the offence; I am willing to let it pass"; but still, although unmentioned, the wrong also would be there, sitting at the same table with the two who sit down together again. The wrong once done shall be always as a shadow between them, until something be done to put it away; until something be done to enable both to forget it, something that shall cost some sacrifice, some suffering, some reparation for the wrong, some humiliation, and some manifestation of the evil really inflicted and the pain really felt on account of the sin which is to be forgiven. Something must be said and done once for all of the nature of an atonement for the sin which separates those two, in order that each may experience the joy of a restored friendship, and that full reconciliation in which the wrong done is to be henceforth morally forgotten as well as forgiven. Surely, then, it is not good theology to imagine God to be reconciled to this world at a less effort and at a less cost of sacrifice and suffering than is required for the perfect binding up of a broken human friendship. Reconciliation does cost humiliation, suffering, self-vindication, at least through sorrow and pain for the sin committed, on the part of the person who would forgive, and then the recognition also of this effort and cost of forgiveness on the part of him who is to be forgiven. Otherwise the forgiveness does not reach to the bottom of the wrong, and the healing is only on the surface of life. And shall the infinitely perfect One be less human in His forgiveness than we? How can the Holy One forgive and forget our sin? Heaven's answer is the Cross of Christ! Through His work of atonement for sin is opened the Divine way of forgetfulness of the sin of the world. God remembers man henceforth as he stands before Him in the nature and grace of Christ. Hence He can forget man as he was without Christ. Justification is God's covering the knowledge of what we once were in our sins by the blessed and all-transfiguring thought of what His own love in the suffering Redeemer has done and always is for us. And this is no mere act of power or violence over memory. It is no arbitrary act of forgetfulness. It contradicts no ethical principle of memory, human or Divine. It is a moral hiding from the Divine remembrance of the sin of the world, which has been already and once for all condemned in the same suffering for it by which the Divine willingness to forgive was made manifest. Our sin, which God always would forgive, can be sin forgiven and forgotten, because it has been at last perfectly confessed before God, and God's necessary pain over it has been realised and revealed in the sufferings in it, and for it, of the Son of His love, and its condemnation, once for all, has been visited upon it in the death of Him who prays in God's pure will that His enemies may be forgiven. If, then, God has made such a morally sufficient atonement for sin that He can forgive it, as He would forgive it, and can forget it without denying Himself, it follows also that we ourselves shall be able to put hereafter our own sin of this life out of mind, and all other pure beings shall be able to let it pass as a dream of the night.
(Newman Smyth, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
WEB: and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know Yahweh; for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says Yahweh: for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more.