Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect. This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
There is an oblivion of the irreparable which is at once true and salutary. The past is. No regrets, no tears, no repentances, can make it undone. Then accept it, recognize it, start from it. Do not expect to be that which your individual history forbids that you should be. God sees you as you are; see yourself so. God knows by what gradual steps of sin you have fallen to this estate; God knows by what gradual steps of repentance you have risen to this. Such as you are, be such,—such when you kneel before your God,—such when you go abroad among men! Forget the things behind. That which you cannot be, by reason of your sin, dismiss it. That which you cannot be, by reason of your sin, forget it. If there is something which you cannot be, there is something also which you can be. If you cannot be a saint, you may be a penitent; if you cannot sit on the right hand or sit’ on the left, at least you may yet be a hired servant; at least you may be yet a door-keeper in the House of your God. Rest there, and be thankful. Merely to dwell among the thoughts of what might have been is unreal, and therefore unprofitable. Learn, secondly, and on the other hand, the oblivion of the attained. That is it of which St. Paul speaks. He counts not himself to have apprehended; in that sense chiefly he forgets the things behind. The experience of life makes us almost weary of the records of Christian experience as now received. If I had my choice—a man is tempted to say—I would dwell rather with the irreligious. There at least I shall find reality; I shall find naturalness; I shall find humility. There we hear nothing about “humble instruments,” nor about being privileged to do a work for God. There are no publications of the triumphs of self-sacrifice, nor of the wonderful achievements wrought by the first appearance, in the home of the ungodly, of the saintly man or the gifted woman. All! how different was it in the first days! Where in St. Paul’s Epistles do we find anything which offends thus the palate of taste, or thus grates upon the ear of modesty? There, on the contrary, we find an utter self-forgetfulness, a remembrance honestly made of sins, and a hearty sense that Christ is all, and that whatever is, is of Him. We have got the words, and too much of them; but we have lost the feeling and the thing signified. The minister of Christ must tell his triumphs on the platform; and the woman who may not preach Christ in churches must preach herself through the medium of the narrative, the memoir, or the autobiography. Forget, St. Paul says, the things behind. If God has enabled you to win back your own soul from evil,—or to save a brother’s soul from death, —thank Him for it, and then forget it. If you, who were once the slave of sin, have become through Divine grace able to see and to follow the light of life and of immortality, stay not to reflect upon it; press on, linger not, that you may not only enjoy the foretaste, but also win the crown. When St. Paul forgot the things behind, think what there was in it. He had seen Jesus Christ, and received from His own lips the Apostolic mission. He had left all, and followed Him. He had demolished by a stroke the whole fabric of an almost completed self-righteousness, and set out quite afresh in a race of self-denial, self-sacrifice, and self-crucifixion. And yet he forgot all this. What have we to forget? Where, in our case, is the edifice of the natural virtue? Where, in our case, is the achievement of the spiritual grace? If it be there, it is to be forgotten; if it be not there, who shall measure the depth of the just, the Christian self-abasement?
No longer forward nor behind I look in hope and fear; But, grateful, take the good I find, The best of now and here. Enough that blessings undeserved Have marked my erring track— That wheresoe’er my feet have swerved, His chastening turned me back.
O GOD, who bestowest this upon us by Thy grace, that we should be made righteous instead of ungodly, blessed instead of miserable; be present to Thine own works, be present to Thine own gifts; that they in whom dwells a justifying faith may not lack a strong perseverance, through Jesus* Christ our Lord. Amen.