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Words: Synesius of Cyrene (b. circa AD 375; d. 430); translation by Allen William Chatfield (b. Oct. 2, 1808; d. Jan. 10, 1896)
Music: Damon (also called Southwell), by William Damon (b. circa 1550; d. 1593)
Note: Synesius of Cyrene was a wealthy man who could trace his ancestry back to Spartan kings. He was a statesman, a man of noble character, and a friend of Augustine. Though he is considered a neo-Platonist, he had a Christian wife, and developed an understanding of Christian doctrine. He eventually became a bishop in the early church. His hymn says:
CH-1) Lord Jesus, think on me
And purge away my sin;
From earthborn passions set me free
And make me pure within.
CH-2) Lord Jesus, think on me,
With many a care oppressed;
Let me Thy loving servant be
And taste Thy promised rest.
CH-4) Lord Jesus, think on me
Nor let me go astray;
Through darkness and perplexity
Point Thou the heavenly way.
One of the sad things often associated with old age is forgetfulness. In its more extreme form, the individual is unable to identify close family members, or recall even the most significant experiences of past times. But a faulty memory is not confined to any one age group. Children can forget to perform assigned chores. Adults can fail to remember important anniversaries, or the fulfilment of promises made.
In the Bible, various forms of the word “forget” are found over a hundred times. And, perhaps because the Lord recognizes this human failing, forms of the word “remember” can be found more than twice that many times. One whole book of the Bible has to do with remembering, the book of Deuteronomy. As the Israelites were preparing to enter the Promised Land, Moses reminded them of God’s Law, and of their past experiences in the wilderness.
We can see the value of such a review. Human beings are often forgetful. But the strange thing is that the Bible also speaks of God Himself remembering and forgetting. How is that possible? God is omniscient, He knows everything, from the name and number of all the stars (Ps. 147:4), to the number of the hairs on our heads (Matt. 10:30). He even knows exactly what will happen in the future (Isa. 46:9-10; Acts 15:18). If God is supremely and eternally all-knowing, how could He forget?
The answer has to do with something theologians call “phenomenal language.” Words describing things as they appear to us, but not necessarily as they are. We use phenomenal language when we talk about sunrise and sunset. We know that it is the earth that turns beneath the sun, but we are describing the way things look to us, the way we experience them.
In a similar way, when the Bible speaks of God forgiving sin, it says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:34). That’s not speaking of the Lord having a self-generated attack of amnesia, but of the fact that, in the experience of the forgiven ones, their sins will never again interfere with their relationship with God.
As another example, after many months in the ark, we read that “God remembered Noah” (Gen. 8:1). Again, it is not a case of the Almighty overcoming a lapse of memory. But from Noah’s perspective, nothing specific was happening to end the flood. Now, it was time for God to actively intervene in the situation. That’s what it means. And He did so.
That’s exactly how the King James Version renders the words of Joseph to another man: “Think on me [i.e. remember me] when it shall be well with thee” (Gen. 40:14). And the Lord also “remembered” Hannah, who was childless, and gave her a son, in answer to her prayers (I Sam. 1:11, 19).
All of this relates to this very old Greek hymn called, in English, Lord Jesus, Think on Me. The hymn formed the epilogue to a series of nine odes presenting Synesius’s understanding of the great doctrines of the church. When he calls upon the Lord to “think on me,” the phrase is used in the sense of remember me, as we’ve been discussing it.
CH-5) Lord Jesus, think on me
When floods the tempest high;
When on doth rush the enemy,
O Saviour, be Thou nigh!
CH-6) Lord Jesus, think on me
That, when the flood is past,
I may th’eternal brightness see
And share Thy joy at last.
1) For what particular condition or circumstance would you pray that the Lord would “think on” you today?
2) What spiritual truth seems to be the most difficult for you to remember and keep in mind?