Time Past, Present and to Come
Psalm 77:11
I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember your wonders of old.

(with Psalm 39:4). We are so made that we live between an unalterable past and an uncertain future, with no time in our possession except that changing line which we call the present. Every present, as we live on, becomes a past; and so we are drawing continually on the future; we are carrying it over to the past in the great account-book of our existence, until the future of this world all becomes a past; and we enter the future of eternity. In this respect though made in God's image we are unlike Him. For to Him all is one eternal Now. He "inhabiteth eternity." But to us time in its three stages clings to our very nature and colours all our conceptions. We cannot conceive of God as eternally Now, it is too much for us. Time seems to us to be a power, a something that has life and force in it, though it is nothing apart from the events that make up our lives; nothing but a condition of our thought. It is nothing to the forgetful animal, or to the vacant mind, which looks not forward nor backward. But to a finite soul, born yesterday to die to-morrow, time is everything; and you may say that in proportion to the nobleness of a soul will be the value it sets on time. Compare time with space. Space is nothing but a receptacle to hold material objects, and a room for their activity. It is wholly outside of souls. A man shut up in a chamber ten feet square may fill the world with good thoughts and great plans. But a bird flies across a continent and no trace is left. What has space to do with character? What has time not to do with character?

I. MEMORY EXTENDS OUR EXISTENCE BACKWARDS. This is the closest analogy in man's nature to God's. He can go back far into the past — his own, and that of the world. He can listen, as it were, to the tumultuous waves of chaos. Memory has far more materials to work upon than belong to anticipation or foresight of the future. It is the treasure-house of our experience, and of the experience of mankind. Prediction, indeed, is possible by the help of what the past has afforded us, although the time that the present order of things shall last cannot be predicted. How many great events have happened which a few years before we had no apprehension of. If we had lived ages of agony we should remember them, but we cannot foretaste a distant joy. Memory causes the entire past to bear on our present lives and future destiny, for —

1. It can carry forward the knowledge of past misdeeds through the boundless future. Good deeds, also, it can remember, but the most pressing thought for us as sinners is, that it surely takes with it all our misdeeds. It drops nothing like a careless messenger, but saves all as a trustful steward of God. It can compress our past lives into a moment like the photograph of an immense landscape brought within the compass of an inch. The fact is, we have in us the materials for the judgment day. They lie now piled up in dark chambers; they will be brought from their chests, and their forgotten testimony will shine like fire. The day of judgment is no appointed, instituted thing; it is the necessary sequel of a life of the thinking man under the righteous reign of God. You, then, who sin and forget it, who appear to yourselves far from danger, because you have hid your sin from your own eyes as men hide live coals under the ashes, what will you do when you find these coals to be still alive ages hence, and when they are freed from the rubbish that covered them? Can you make God forget? That would be something to the purpose, were it possible. Can you expect that feelings, such as the sense of ill-desert, which are immutable records of your own against yourself, will be blotted out by time? Even sin, then, has, in a sense, an eternal life. It can never grow old and vanish away.

II. I remark again, however, that there is a wise provision by which, according to the ordinary laws of this life, THE EVENTS OF THE PAST DO NOT STAY WITH US, GENERALLY, IN ALL THEIR FIRST VIVIDNESS, In other words, the actual weaknesses of memory are in part calculated for our moral as well as mental benefit. If we remembered everything as it was when it occurred, such vividness might render impossible a better life. All common sights, sounds, and actions — all such things as make up the mass of events, it is a blessing to have forgotten. This is of vast importance in reference to our spiritual and moral nature. A sincere penitent cannot well forget the great sins he may have fallen into. Yet such a penitent, by keeping in mind past sins with their aggravation, may be prevented from using his active powers. Remorse might reign in our souls to the exclusion of the purpose of amendment. Now, there must be hope and vigour in every mind that successfully strives to amend. Ever brooding on the past brings nothing but despair. The difficulty of a new life is almost hopeless if we remember nothing but past ill success, broken resolutions, and resisted motives to good. It is manifest also that this weakening of the hold of the past on us — owing to the defects of memory, within certain limits — helps on all improvement. Minds of finite capacities, if every past thing was continually fresh, would be full of details without the power of making principles prominent. But when we remember principles, and general strains, and life-currents of action, we can, without the burden of too great details, purpose in view of our past and live for our future. To this it should be added that there is a compromise effected in our nature — so to speak — between the present and the past by the power of recollection. We hunt up stray thoughts by using the laws which associate them with one another. And they also come back without our search. Thus sin becomes its own punishment. We try, but fail, to drown such thoughts.

III. WE OUGHT TO LIVE FOR THE PRESENT AS WELL AS FOR THE FUTURE. Moralists talk of the present as a point in an endless path, and they represent the future of that path as being alone of importance. But this is not altogether true. To live merely for the present is doubtless ruinous, but to live only for the future is no virtue. What is the future but a run of moments which are to be present, and what worth can there be in any of these, if they are worth nothing while they are with us? It would be as if a man passing through grand scenery should not look on the beauties before his eyes because finer points of view were coming, and he should so act until the journey's end. If the future always remained future, it would be valueless. But let us test these remarks by scriptural truth. What can trust do — that is worth anything to us — if it cannot lay our interests for the future in the hand of God, and thus prevent the crowd of cares from coming to lodge with us before their time? And does not Christ say, "Take no thought for the morrow, for," etc.? How unlike is this peace of souls to our feverish haste, our inability to enjoy life until it settles on its dregs; our insurances and provisions against evil; as if each of us were a castle besieged by enemies. Of course our Lord's meaning is, "be not solicitous for the morrow." It is anxiety that He condemns, which is the foe of a quiet trust in God. He would have us plan great plans, embracing all the future, as He did Himself; but He wants us also to possess profound peace within our Souls. A life of faith will furnish the only true reconciliation. All progress depends on acting at the right time. You may have known persons who put off work until to-morrow, for the sake of amusement, and when the weight of the past, besides that of the present, came on their backs, it crushed them. Or you may have known those who were too provident, who sought to rob the future of its office, that it might furnish them rest, or better opportunities. But this overtasked them, and wore them out. Neither of these courses is wise; every moment has its rights. This is true in things spiritual as in things temporal.

IV. And thus WE DISCOVER THE SIGNIFICANCE OF FUTURE TIME. Who would desire a never-ending existence such as is one's now? Who could endure it, except by an act of religious resignation like that of a monk in his cell? And if this be so, why is it so? It is so because it is an essential part of the plan of our earthly condition that it should end. It is not too bold to say that superior being, who knew nothing of our destiny as it respects life and death, would conclude that death ought to be man's lot, and that he was made to finish his existence in some other sphere. This he would find out as soon as he perceived what man could do, and what his earthly limitations prevented him from doing. Death seems to be the most suitable event for an immortal placed on earth, more suitable for him than for the beast which may have no hereafter. This, then, is the true significance of future time, that, as it unrolls, a great change is to come over us — a change unlike anything in the past. For this futurity, life and death are preparations; it is this that makes life a great something, full of praise or full of shame. It is this that makes the world a theatre for an immortal. For every living man, then, the future has one thing in it wholly unlike in kind all the events of the past. Birth, or man's entrance into a world of time, was strange; that is the unique event of time gone by. Death, which is called for and made suitable by the whole meaning of life, is the unique event of time to come. And this unique event ought to throw a new power and energy into all our passing moments. I ought to feel that, because I am going to die, I am a privileged person. To what may I not rise? But for this I must be trained in time, and the future, by its one great event, ought to sober me, and train me as much as I could be trained by all the experience of the past. But do I ask, how can the unknown act in me except through my fears? The hope of that future will, and does, influence men. To souls who take in the whole of existence, the great contrast is that of this present time and the eternal life on high. And so habits, characters, choices of action, estimates of pleasure, as well as hopes, are all chastened, ennobled, beautified; they are clothing themselves for the presence of the King eternal, immortal, invisible. And when they hear the death trump calling them to come away, its clang, fearful to so many, turns for them into the voice of celestial music.

(T. D. Woolsey.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.

WEB: I will remember Yah's deeds; for I will remember your wonders of old.

Recollection, Reflection, and Declaration
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