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Words: Robert Murray McCheyne (b. May 21, 1813; d. Mar. 25, 1843)
Music: Mount Zion (or Sullivan), by Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (b. May 13, 1842; d. Nov. 22, 1900)
Note: Originally in nine six-line stanzas, it’s believed this hymn was written in 1837.
Legendary baseball pitcher, Satchel Paige, once said, “Don’t look back, somethin’ might be gainin’ on you!” And there can be problems with looking back. A runner who looks back may stumble, and lose valuable seconds in a close race.
And what about life in general? Obsessively looking back on our past lives can either load us with guilt, or it can foster an excess of pride. It can also keep us from enjoying today, or giving it the attention and energy it deserves. Carrying about the burden of past regrets can bind us with ponderous chains like those borne by Marley’s ghost.
An extensive survey revealed that the things people most often had regrets about were, in order: romantic relationships, family, education, career, financial decisions, and parenting. Some were sorry for things they’d done that they shouldn’t have. Others regretted not doing things they should have. And often they reflected on time, and other resources, that had been wasted.
One who had a past which he later regretted deeply was the Apostle Paul. In his early days he was a zealous Pharisee, who saw the early church as an evil that needed to be stamped out. He says, “I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it” (Gal. 1:13). “I persecuted this [Christian] Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women” (Acts 22:4).
In considering the past, Paul reveled in the grace and mercy of God, but he determined not to dwell on these things to the detriment of today. He tells us:
“Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
Having said these things, an occasional reflection on past days is not necessarily a bad thing. For the one who is trying to lose weight, it may be encouraging to try on that old pair of pants and see how much less of us there is to fill them! Marking our progress can spur us on to keep going. It is also valuable to review the blessings of God, and remember, with gratitude, others who have helped us on our way.
What believers will recall of this present life, when we get to heaven, is somewhat uncertain. There are various clues in Scripture to suggest that we will be able to review the past to some extent. One who pondered that was Scottish pastor Robert Murray McCheyne. A man known for his godly character and deep spirituality, McCheyne died at the age of thirty, though not of any known disease. It’s believed he simply burned himself out in service for the Saviour.
An example will show how he ministered. Returning to Dundee on a Thursday evening, after a long weary journey, he headed for the church, as it was the night of the mid-week meeting. There he preached to a large congregation. Afterward, walking homeward, he stopped and prayed with many along the way. Reaching home, completely exhausted he murmured, “To Thy name, O Lord, be all the glory.”
In a hymn, which he called, “I Am Debtor,” Pastor McCheyne shows the depth of his spiritual insight. The hymn says:
CH-1) When this passing world is done,
When has sunk yon glaring sun,
When we stand with Christ in glory,
Looking o’er life’s finished story,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know–
Not till then–how much I owe.
CH-3) When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own,
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart,
Then Lord, shall I fully know–
Not till then–how much I owe.
CH-6) Chosen not for good in me,
Wakened up from wrath to flee,
Hidden in the Saviour’s side,
By the Spirit sanctified,
Teach me, Lord, on earth to show,
By my love, how much I owe.
1) What are some negatives and positives you recall, as you review your past life?
2) How does the Lord view your past, if you are a Christian?