Abstract of a Sermon Preached on January 19, 1997
Psalm 103 begins, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”
“Forget not,” he says, for the fact is, we have a great proneness to forget “all his benefits.” An old proverb says, “He that gets forgets, but he that wants thinks on.” When you are deprived of something which you feel you need, or for which you have a strong desire, it is hard not to think about it. But we take for granted the things which we have, and never give them a thought. Another old proverb says, “We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” And another, “Health is not valued till sickness comes.” While we have plenty of water, we never give it a thought. We need water. It is one of the things most necessary to our existence, but while we have plenty of it, we forget that we need it, and most of us probably never think to thank God for it. And so it is with a thousand other benefits. We do most of our thinking about the things we are deprived of, and forget the things which the Lord freely gives to us.
Now the devil is well aware of this propensity of our natures, and he uses it to his best advantage in tempting us. He used it when he tempted Eve, and with great success, though she was not a sinner as we are. Understand, the “benefits” with which God had blessed Eve were almost without limit. “Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat.” But the devil never mentioned any of that. Every word he said was about the one thing which God had deprived her of, the forbidden fruit. He held that before her eyes, and praised and glorified it so that it filled her whole horizon, and eclipsed all the benefits which the Lord had lavished upon her. The devil never spoke a word to her about peaches and pears and plums and oranges and cherries and bananas and pineapples. Never a word about the fragrance of the lilac or the rose. Never a word about the exquisite beauty of the wing of the butterfly, or a thousand kinds of flowers. Never a word about the song of the robin or the meadow lark. Never a word about the warmth of the sun. His purpose was that she would forget all that—-that her whole mind would be filled with the one thing which God had withheld from her.
Ah, if only Eve had had her mind full of this word of Scripture, “forget not all his benefits.” Then her faith would not have failed. Then she could not have been guilty of so base a deed as she committed. She would then have had an abundant answer for the fiend. She would have said, “Get thee behind me, Satan. Thou art an offence unto me.” But this precious scripture did not exist, and by the cunning craftiness of the devil “all his benefits” were eclipsed by the one thing which she was deprived of. “All his benefits” were forgotten, and all her thoughts and desires taken up with the forbidden fruit. If she had but remembered at that time “all his benefits,” her faith in the goodness of God would not have failed, and she would not have fallen.
And the devil still employs today the same method which proved so successful then. Alas, we don't need much help from the devil. It is the propensity of our own natures to forget the good things we have, while we pine for those of which we are deprived.
How many of you think about the water you drink? Your eyesight? Your hearing? Your health? The warm house in which you live? The fire-wood with which you heat it? How often do you thank God for those things? We thank God for our food, because we have a custom to do so. It is a good custom—-the Lord did it—-but how often would we do it if we had no such custom? How often do we thank him for the rest of his benefits? Do you give God thanks when you drink a glass of water? For a good night's sleep, for strength for the day, for the clothes you wear? Do you ever thank God for those things? Nothing so near to us as the clothes we wear. We feel them about us every minute of every day, and yet I suppose most of us forget them—-never think of them—-never thank God for them.
“He that gets forgets, but he that wants thinks on.” Those nine lepers that the Lord cleansed—-while they lacked their health they no doubt thought about it a great plenty. Probably scarcely an hour of their lives passed that they didn't think about it. But as soon as they had it, they forgot, and forgot the kind hand that gave it to them.
You know, there are two ways the Psalmist could have said what he had to say. “Forget” is the opposite of “remember.” To forget not means the same thing as to remember. But he didn't say “Remember all his benefits,” but “Forget not all his benefits.” He said it in such a way as to call attention to the propensity of our natures. He said it in such a way as to convict us of our carelessness. Well, this is our nature. We naturally feel what we are deprived of, and forget what we have. But it doesn't bespeak a very good state of soul to forget all his benefits.
But what can we do about it? How can we help it? I suppose that when people are spiritual it comes naturally to remember the Lord's benefits, and praise him for them. But what can we do about it if we haven't attained to that? We may need some reminders. The Lord has given us one such reminder. When the Psalmist goes on to enumerate a few of “all his benefits,” he mentions the greatest of them first, “who forgiveth all thine iniquities,” and the Lord himself has given us a help to remember this. “This do in remembrance of me.” This is a help by which to forget not the forgiveness of all our iniquities, and the price which the Lord paid for it. But what about the rest of his benefits? Memory is a very elusive thing. We don't forget purposely or intentionally, but unconsciously, without any awareness that we are doing it. How then can we discipline ourselves to “forget not”? This scripture is of course an effectual reminder, but we can forget this scripture as easily as we forget all his benefits. Maybe we ought to write it on the walls of our house. That might be an effectual help.
But you know God has a help of another sort that he gives to some of us. It is called poverty. The very best way to remember the benefits of the Lord is to be deprived of them. We will think enough about them while we are deprived, and when we are deprived of something long enough, we will be little likely to forget it when we get it. God may by his providence deprive his saints of particular things precisely for that purpose, but the poor are deprived in general, and they thereby gain a capacity to appreciate and enjoy, which rich folks never possess. Men generally suppose that money is the way to happiness, but this is the opposite of the truth. The poor have a capacity for happiness which the rich never can have. They have acquired that capacity by being deprived. I have been poor since the day I was born, and you know, I believe if we were all to sit down and make a list of “all his benefits,” there would be a good many things on my list which would never appear on the lists of other folks. Not that I have more—-certainly not—-but I think I know how to appreciate more. My list would contain such things as shoes that fit—-socks that don't have holes in them—-a car that I don't have to push to start—-boots that don't leak—-a freezer that isn't empty. I have all those things now, but I know what it is to do without them. We know what “hard times” are. When we ran out of something, or when something broke or quit working, we just added it to the end of the “wish list.” But you know, people who have seen hard times know how to appreciate and enjoy and thank God for good times. They know a little of the secret, of how to “forget not all his benefits.” Poverty may go as far in this direction as spirituality.
You know I built my little camper, to have a place and a means to get away by myself, and have some solitude—-some time alone with God. But I needed a little cast iron stove to heat it. I asked God for one, and went out hunting, during the city clean-up week. I found one on the curb, that someone had thrown away. I had actually given up looking, and was ready to go home, but I had to get gas for the car first. On the way to the gas station I looked down a side street, and there was my stove. It had two broken legs, but I replaced those with iron pipes. I praised God for that stove when I found it—-praised him for taking me down the right street and causing me to turn my head the right way to see it—-and I have been thanking him for it ever since. When I sit in my little camper to read and pray, and my eyes fall on that little stove, I thank God for giving it to me. You know it would have been very difficult to find a stove like that for sale, and a hardship to buy it—-and a practical impossibility to buy a new one. But God gave it to me, and I suppose because I have always been poor I have a little capacity to appreciate it, and to “forget not” the benefit.
But you know we poor folks are human enough, and we envy the rich sometimes, but it may be that the rich would do better to envy us. I have no doubt that our poverty is one of the benefits for which we ought to thank God. We will thank him for it in eternity, if not here.
Now the fact is, the benefits of the Lord are almost innumerable, though most of us probably habitually forget most of them. If you were to sit down with a piece of paper, and begin to make a list of “all his benefits,” do you know what would happen? You wouldn't get the list on one sheet. You would need another, and another, and another, until you had filled a ream of paper. And on the other side, if you were to sit down with another sheet of paper to list all those things which you need or would like to have, of which the Lord has deprived you, you probably couldn't fill up a single sheet. And yet the strange fact is, those few things of which you are deprived occupy most of your thoughts, while the great multitude of “all his benefits” are for the most part forgotten. You spend a good deal more words asking God for the few things you lack, than you do thanking him for the many things you have. We need this word of Scripture, “Forget not all his benefits.”
The very abundance of our benefits causes us to forget them. “The full soul loatheth a honeycomb,” precisely because he is full. We somehow lose our ability to appreciate things when we have too much of them. Some of you young people, who have grown up in houses full of books by men like John Wesley and R. A. Torrey, you probably don't set much value on them. I grew up without ever hearing the names of those men, and therefore I know how to remember the benefit of my books, and value and appreciate them, and thank God for them. You who have always had your health, your eyesight, your hearing, you are most likely to forget it—-never give it a thought, and never thank God for it. If you had been born blind, and languished in darkness for forty years, and then the Lord gave you your sight, you wouldn't be very likely to forget it. And this is most probably the reason the Lord does deprive us of certain things, to teach us to appreciate them. When he has deprived us long enough, and severely enough, then we “forgot not” the benefit when we have received it.
And you know, it is very much to our advantage to forget not all his benefits. To dwell on these things will of course increase our gratitude, and our faith in God, and our love to God. It will of course increase our happiness, to be occupied with the good things we have, instead of the good things we don't have. But beyond all this, it may even put us in a good way to secure more of those benefits. God values our praise. He values our gratitude. I would guess he is more likely to open his hand and pour out his benefits upon a grateful soul than an ungrateful. I am in a position at the present time where I am obliged to pray for a house. The house which I rent is up for sale, and may be sold out from under me at any time. Where can I go? Where can I find another house that I can both fit into and afford? Where will I find a landlord willing to rent to so large a family? I ask God for another house. And I tell him, “If you answer me in this, and give me another place like this one, you know that I will glorify you.” How does God know that? Because for fifteen years I have been thanking him for this place.
I realize that God pours out his benefits on the good and the evil alike, but it is also true that he disciplines his own children, and certainly one manner in which he does so is to withhold his benefits from them—-not only to scourge them for some sin, but to work in them the capacity to appreciate his benefits.
But I must draw this to a close. There is one thing above all others which I hope I may accomplish this morning. I have been repeating words of the text over and over. “Forget not all his benefits.” I want the words of the text—-“forget not”—-to be engraved and embedded in your hearts and minds. “Forget not.” “Forget not all his benefits.”