The Necessity of Forgetting

Ellet J. Waggoner

The Signs of the Times : March 11, 1889 

Said the apostle Paul to the Philippians: “This one thing I do, 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 high calling [upward call] of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13, 14).
So much is said in the Bible about remembering, that many are in danger of losing sight of the fact that it is a duty sometimes to forget. It is a great thing to learn how to remember, but it is an equally great thing to learn the art of forgetfulness. One reason why so many fail to make advancement in the Christian life is because they have never learned how to forget. They think that one can forget only as the thing gradually fades from the mind, not realizing that they have to put forth positive effort in order to forget, as well as to remember.
It will scarcely be questioned by anyone that scenes and acts of wickedness are to be forgotten. When the sin has been confessed and forgiven, then the mind should turn from it. True, the individual should never forget that he has been taken from a horrible pit or that he stands only by faith, having no strength in himself; but if he allows his mind to dwell upon the specific acts of sin, one of two things, and possibly both, will result. Either he will be led to doubt that he has been forgiven, or else he will be impelled by the force of habit and association, to the commission of the same things again. An impure thought cannot find lodgment in the mind without leaving a stain. We have known many persons to cheat themselves out of a great blessing that God had for them, simply by keeping their minds fixed on the sin, and letting that eclipse the love of God. It is a great thing to forget, even while retaining sufficient remembrance to appreciate at its true value the wonderful love of God in pardoning sin.
Another thing that it is most necessary to forget is that which may have been said against us. If uncharitable remarks have been made, to remember them is like taking to one’s self a deadly poison. Nothing is more deadening to spiritual life; for the fact that such things are not forgotten proves that they are not forgiven, and if they are not forgiven that is evidence that the soul is not rejoicing in the love of God. When God forgives us, he puts upon us his own righteousness in place of the sin, and then treats us as though we had never sinned; and if we obey the injunction to forgive one another even as God hath for Christ’s sake forgiven us, we shall treat the one who has offended as though he had always done us kindness instead of injury. Without this, the peace of God cannot rule in the heart.
Another cause of stumbling is the failure to forget the good deeds that have been done. This is scarcely less fatal than to remember the specific acts of sin. Sometimes through the grace of God we are enabled to accomplish a really good work, which gives us great joy. But then, instead of thanking God that he has done something with us; we insensibly take to ourselves some of the glory, and congratulate ourselves over our success. Instead of going on in the same strength to gain other victories, we sit down and look at what has been done, or else, going on, we keep looking back, and so stumble and fail. Nobody can expect to make any headway in a race if he keeps looking back over his shoulder. If he does so, he cannot fail to stumble over some object lying in his path, or else his course will be very crooked. He who is running the Christian race should heed these words of the wise man:—
“Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you. Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established. Do not turn to the right or the left; remove your foot from evil” (Prov. 4:25-27).
But how shall we forget? Many would forget, but they do not know how. They take hold of the thing and resolutely attempt to force it out of their mind, but that only fixes it the more firmly. Well, the secret of forgetting is very simple. Forget one thing by thinking of something else. It is impossible for the mind to contemplate two things at the same time. Now if you wish to forget something bad, think of something good. Forget the things that are behind by looking toward the things that are before. If you have been able to do a good work, thank God for his help, and in the strength of that help go on to do another good work, giving your whole mind to it. There is a prize before us, even the prize of “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” This high calling is holiness of life, godliness; it is above us, and we cannot climb toward it by looking down at the path we have already trod.
“No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Of course not, and he never can be until he looks straight forward instead of back. If a man at the plow should keep looking back, his plow would keep continually running out, and he could not plow at all. He would make no more headway than a man who would try to run a race and at the same time look over his shoulder. Therefore, as he who has called us is holy, let us resolutely press toward that mark, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”