Neither Forsaken Nor Forgotten
“Behold, I have engraved you upon the palms of My hands.”
You have probably noticed, dear Friends, while reading the chapter from which our text is taken, that it seems to divide itself into two parts. The first portion concerns that glorious Servant of God, “who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” even our Divine Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. There is, in this part of the chapter, somewhat of a complaint–Christ was, as it were, uttering one of His Gethsemane groans when He said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing, and in vain: yet surely My judgment is with Jehovah, and My work with My God.” As far as our Lord’s personal ministry among the Jewish people was concerned, it did seem as if He had labored in vain, for almost all of them rejected Him and they even imprecated an awful curse upon themselves and their descendants when they said, “His blood be on us, and on our children.” He is here represented as crying out before Jehovah concerning this apparent failure of His earthly mission. And an answer is at once given to Him which must have been eminently satisfactory to our Savior’s spirit, for He adds, “Though Israel is not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of Jehovah and My God shall be My strength. And He said, It is a light thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give You for a light to the Gentiles, that You may be My salvation unto the ends of the earth.” Oh, what joy must have filled the heart of our Divine Master, even in the depths of His agony, as He saw that, through His death, all nations should ultimately behold the Light of God’s salvation! What though Israel for a while rejected Him? Yet multitudes of the Gentiles would receive Him and then, by-andby, in the fullness of time, the Jews would also receive Him, and acknowledge as King the Nazarene whom once they crucified on Calvary!
The second part of the chapter, singularly enough, relates to the Israelite Church and, to a large extent, to the whole Church of God, and it also contains a complaint. In the expressive language of verse 13, God bids the heavens and the earth rejoice–“Sing, O heavens, and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for Jehovah has comforted His people, and will have mercy upon His afflicted.” Yet, even while that jubilant note is pealing over sea and land, there is heard the wailing of poor forsaken Zion–Judaea’s Church, the ancient Church of the living God! She sighs, “‘Jehovah has forsaken me and my Lord has forgotten me.’ He is blessing the Gentiles, but I am left unblessed. He is gathering multitudes unto Himself, to glorify His Son; but His poor Israel, His ancient choice, His first love, He seems to have left out of all reckoning,‘ Jehovah has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.’” Then comes the Lord’s answer, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, they may forget, yet will I not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you upon the palms of My hands.” Israel shall yet acknowledge her King, her salvation waits for the appointed time. There is a high destiny in store for the Israel of God and many shall yet see the day when He who died as King of the Jews shall live again to wear that title and to be acknowledged as the Head of all the house of Abraham!
My objective, in speaking upon the familiar and precious words of our text, is just this–Sometimes you and I get into the same sad condition as Zion was then and we fancy that God has forgotten us, so I want to show you that if we are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord gives to us an answer similar to that which He gave to sorrowful Zion, “I have engraved you upon the palms of My hands.” Upon that short sentence I shall try now to speak to you.
- First, let us think, for a while, upon THE FEAR EXPRESSED–the fear in the hearts of God’s people which led to the utterance of our text. In verse 14, this fear is thus expressed, “Jehovah has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.”
This fear has been felt by very many. Fear is a most contagious and infectious thing. When it has taken hold on one person, it has been often known to spread to many others till a terrible panic has resulted from a very slight cause. Here is the whole Jewish church expressing the fear that God has forgotten her! I feel sure that I am not now addressing such a church as that–I hope that the most of those now present know that God has not forgotten them and that they are walking in the light of His Countenance so that they do not imagine that Jehovah has forsaken them. But, still, this fear has darkened, shall I say, every sky, and passed before the window of every spirit? Well, I will not go quite that far, yet I know that there must be but very few of us who have not, at one time or another, naughtily whispered to our own heart, if we have not said it aloud, “Jehovah has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.” We have gone up to the House of God with our brethren and we have seen them very happy. The Word of God has been precious to them and they have seemed to enjoy it to the fullest, but we could not feed upon it, or get a glimpse of the Well-Beloved. And we have gone out of the place sighing, “Jehovah has forsaken me and my Lord has forgotten me.” Have you ever had that thought? If you never have, I hope you never will, but I fear that the most of us have, at some time or other, been subject to that distressing complaint.
And it has sometimes been very plaintively expressed. It is so in the text. I think I hear the mountains echoing thejoyous voice of God and the very skies reverberating with the song of the redeemed! And then, in between the breaks of the glad chorus, I catch this little mournful note, “Jehovah has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.” Perhaps it is all the more plaintive because the tone seems to indicate that Zion felt that she deserved to have it so. She thought herself so insignificant, so sinful, so provoking, that it was no wonder that the great Jehovah should forget her in her littleness–and that the pure and holy God should turn His face away from such iniquity as hers. Brothers and Sisters, I feel sure that you and I must have been in that state in which we could weep and groan and sigh because of the joy in the air of which we could not partake, the songs in which we could not unite unless we became utter hypocrites. We heard the sweet strains of the holy merriment in the Father’s House, but we felt that we could not join in it! And we sat by ourselves mourning, with our harps hanging on the willows, while everyone around us only increased our grief in proportion to his own delight. I am trying to speak to such troubled souls–God comfort them! There are many such, and their grief is great.
And some, too, are very obstinate while they are in that condition, for our text contains a very unreasonable complainer. Read the latter part of the 13 th verse. “Jehovah has comforted His people, and will have mercy upon His afflicted.” Yet, in the teeth of that double declaration, Zion said, “Jehovah has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.” Ah, dear Friends, our complaints of God are generally groundless! We get into a state of mind in which we say, “God has forsaken us,” when He is really dealing with us more than He was known to do. A child who is feeling the strokes of the rod is very foolish to say, “My father has forgotten me.” No, those very blows, under which he is smarting, are reminders that his father does
not forget him–and your trials and your troubles, your depressions and your sorrows
are tokens that you are not forgotten of God. The chastening which is guaranteed to every legitimate son is coming to you! If you had not been chastened, there would have been far more cause for saying, “My Lord has forgotten me.” Besides, dear Friend, you have had some comforts though you have had many sorrows. You can say, “Comforts mingle with my sighs.” Do not forget that. It is not all gall and wormwood–there is so much honey as greatly to mitigate the bitterness. Think of that and do not obstinately stand to a word which, perhaps, you spoke in haste. If you have said, “My Lord has forgotten me,” take back the word, for it cannot be true. You have slandered Him who can never forget one of His own people! And if you have said, “Jehovah has forsaken me,” again I ask you to take back the evil and false word, and eat it. Never let it be heard again, for it is impossible that Jehovah should change, or that the Immutable love of His Infinite heart should ever die out! Be not obstinate about this matter, I implore you! Yet I have known some of God’s people stick to this grave lie to their own grievous wounding and hurt.
I suppose that Zion came to this conclusion because she was in banishment. She was away from the land that flowedwith milk and honey–she was suffering in exile. Is this the conclusion to be drawn from all suffering? Does the vine say, “The vinedresser has forsaken me because he prunes me so sharply”? Does the invalid say, “The physician has forgotten me because he gives me such bitter medicine”? Shall the patient beneath the knife, say, “The surgeon has forsaken me because he cuts even to the bone”? You see at once that there is no reasonableness about such talk, so dismiss it at once! “Judge not the Lord” by outward Providences, any more than “by feeble sense,” but trust Him even when you can see no trace of His goodness to you. “Let God be true, and” every circumstance, as well as “every man, a liar,” for God must keep His promise to His people. He is Immutable! He cannot possibly change. He must be true to every word that has gone forth out of His mouth. The fear that God may forsake and forget His own, if obstinately indulged, will certainly deserve to be set down among the wanton and unreasonable transgressions of His people against their gracious God.
Yet I think that there is some measure of Grace mingled with this fear. Let me read you this passage straight on–“Jehovah has comforted His people and will have mercy upon His afflicted. But Zion said, Jehovah has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.” She did not say that till God had visited her. “The Lord has comforted His people.” He has brought them out of a yet lower depth that they were in and they have been lifted up so high as now to want His Presence, and to sigh for it! Beloved Brothers and Sisters, you who are so deep down in the dungeon, I feel glad that you want to get out of it. There is, in your soul, a longing after God, is there not? There is a panting and a crying after peace with God, is there not? You are not satisfied as long as you even think that God has forsaken you, are you? Ah, then, this isthe work of His Holy Spirit in your soul, making you long after the living God, so that there is some sign of Grace even in that discontented moan of yours, for it proves that you cannot bear that God should forsake you! Now, if you belonged to the world, it would be nothing to you if the Lord had forsaken you. If there were no Grace in you, you would not care whether God forgot you or not! Indeed, you might almost wish that He would forget you and not visit you inHis wrath. There is, therefore, some trace of His hand in your spirit, even now that you say, “Jehovah has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.”
Besides, although the text is a word of complaint, it has also in it a word of faith–“ my Lord.” Did you notice that?Zion calls Jehovah hers though she dreams that He has forsaken her! I love to see you keep the grip of your faith even when it seems to be illogical–even if you fancy that the Lord has forgotten and forsaken you! Though you fear that it is so, yet you still say, “my Lord,” held on to this assurance with a death-grip! If you cannot hold on with both hands, hold on with one and if, sometimes, you can hold with neither hand, hold on with your teeth! Let Job’s resolve be yours–“Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him. Though after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” “And every scattered grain of this, my dust, shall still confide in God.” Oh, for the faith that laughs at impossibilities, that leaps with joy between the very jaws of death, itself, and sings in the very center of the fire! Such a faith as that, whatever weakness there may be about it, brings glory to God! So I treasure up that little word, “my.” There are only two letters in it, but they are fraught with untold hope to the man who can use them as Zion does here, “my Lord.”
So much for the fear which the text is intended to meet.
II. Now I come, as God shall help me, to speak concerning THE COMFORT BESTOWED. “I have engraved you upon the palms of My hands.”
This assurance is the Lord’s answer to Zion’s lament, “Jehovah has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.” So take it from God’s own mouth and never doubt it! God’s remembrance of His people as a whole and of each individual in particular, has been secured by Him beyond all question. “That we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us,” He has said to each of us, “‘I have engraved you upon the palms of My hands.’ I have done it and I have done that which will render it utterly impossible that I should ever forget one of My people. I the Lord have committed Myself to something which will henceforth render it absolutely certain that I never can forget My own, for, ‘I have engraved you upon the palms of My hands.’”
These words seem to say to us that God has already secured, beyond any possible doubt, His tender memory towards all His own. He has done this in such a way that forgetfulness can never occur at any moment whatever. The memorial is not set up in Heaven, for then you might conceive that God could descend and leave that memorial. It is not set up in any great public place in the universe, nor is it engraved in a signet ring upon God’s finger, for that might be taken off. It is not written upon the Almighty’s clothes–to speak after the manner of men–for He might disrobe Himself for conflict. But He has put the token of His love where it cannot be laid aside–on the palms of His hands. A man cannot leave his hands at home. If he has put something, by way of memorial, upon the walls of his house or the gates of his home, he may go away and forget it. Or if, as I have said, he shall write the memorial upon some precious diamond, or topaz, or other jewels which he wears, yet he might lay them aside. But God says, “I have engraved you upon the palms of My hands,” so that the memorial is constantly with Him! Yes, it is in God, Himself, that the memorial of His people is fixed.
I suppose the allusion is to an Oriental custom, possibly not very common, but still common enough to have survived to this day. Mr. John Anderson, the pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Helensburgh, who was a very dear friend of mine, told me that on one or two occasions, he had seen, in the East, men who had the portraits of their friends, and others who had the initials of their friends, on the palms of their hands. I said to him, “But I suppose that, in time, they would wash off or wear out.” “No,” he said, “they were tattooed too deeply in to be removed, so that, whenever they opened their hand, there were the familiar initials, or some resemblance to the features of the beloved one, to keep him always in remembrance.” And the Lord here adopts that ancient custom and says, “I cannot forget you. It is impossible for Me to do so, for I have engraved you where the memorial can never be apart from Myself. ‘I have engraved you upon the palms of My hands.’”
Now, what is it, dear Friends, that makes it so certain that God cannot forget His people? Well, first, God remembers His eternal love to His people, and His remembrance of them is constant because of that love. He says to each believing soul, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” The people of God were loved by Him long before the world was created–He has loved them too long to ever forget them. “I have loved too long,” said one man, “to be turned aside by the blandishment of another.” We cannot imagine anything that could separate us from that dear heart to which our heart is knit even with a human love. While both of us shall live, the two are, indeed, one. And God has loved us more than husbands love their wives, or fathers love their children, or brothers love their brothers. His love is like a great ocean of which all human love is but a drop of spray! And He has loved us so long, so well, so deeply, so unreservedly, that He cannot forget us. Even when any of His people wanders from Him and grieves His heart, He says, “Yes , but I haveloved you with an everlasting love, and I will not cast you off. Though all that you now are might tend to wean Me from you, yet Mine is not the love of yesterday, it is not a passion like that which flames within some men for a brief space and then quickly goes out in darkness.” It is God’s eternal love that makes Him keep us in memory! He has engraved us, from all eternity, upon the palms of His hands and, therefore, He cannot forget us.
Next, God’s suffering love secures His memory of us. Well did we sing, just now–
“The palms of My hands while I look on I see
The wounds I received when suffering for thee!”
Oh, how deeply the cruel engravers cut our names in Christ’s dear hands! Those nails that fastened Him to the Cross were the engraving tools and He leaned hard while the iron pierced through flesh, and nerve and vein. Yet the engraving of which our text speaks is more than that, for the Lord Himself says, “I have engraved you upon the palms of My hands.” The sufferings of Christ for us were such that never, by any possibility, can He forget us. Since He has died for us, He will never cast us away. By His death, on Calvary’s Cross, Christ ensured that all those for whom He died shall live with Him in His Kingdom as surely as He, Himself, lives. He paid not in vain such a tremendous price–neither shall He lose any part of that which He has thus purchased for Himself! What a blessed memorial, then, is not only God’s eternal love, but Christ’s suffering love!
Yet again, by the expression, “I have engraved you upon the palms of My hands,” God seems to say, “I have done somuch for you that I can never forget you.” God has actively worked for His people in many ways, but I will only now mention what His Spirit has worked in you. What a theme that is! And, from the fact that the Spirit of God has worked so much in us, we derive the satisfaction that He will never forget us. A man does not forget the work of His own hands, especially if it is something very choice. I remember that, in the siege of Paris, a great artist hid away a grand picture which was then but partly finished. Did he forget to go to Paris when it had its liberty, and to seek out his painting? Assuredly not! He remembered the work of his own hands and back he went to draw it out and put the finishing touches to it. So God has done too much for us for Him ever to lose us. Has He not created us anew in Christ Jesus, and given His Spirit to dwell within us? Then, surely, He will never turn away from work so costly, so Divine–but He will complete it to His own praise and Glory!
But, once more, when a memorial is engraved on a man’s hand, then it is connected with the man’s life. While helives, that memorial is a part of his life. So is it with God. He has linked His people with His life. Our Lord Jesus said to His disciples, “Because I live, you shall live also.” The union between your Incarnate God and yourself is a thing which is so complete that your life is intertwined with His life! Christ and you have become one fabric. To tear you away would be to destroy Him. “Your life is hidden with Christ in God” and until Christ Himself shall die, His people shall not die. Oh, think of this wondrous mystery! The ever-blessed Son of God is bound up in the bundle of life with all His people! This I take to be the meaning of the Lord’s words, “I have engraved you upon the palms of My hands.” I cannot godeeper into this blessed subject, but I pray God to take you deeper, for there is a great depth here.
III. Now, Beloved, I turn to the third head of my discourse, upon which I will be very brief. We have had a fear expressed and a comfort bestowed. Now, here is AN INSPECTION INVITED. “Behold,” says Jehovah, “Behold, I have engraved you upon the palms of My hands.”
Come, then. “Behold.” Look for yourselves. There is God the Father. Did you say that He had forsaken you? But how can that be? Behold, and see. He is your Father if you are trusting in His Son, Jesus Christ. Do you forget, do you forsake your own children? Tell me! You had a boy who well-near broke your heart. He went away and you were sadly glad when he went, for he had so grieved you that you thought it better that he should be out of sight. But have you forgotten him? Suppose he came back tonight? ‘Tis years, now, since he left you without your blessing. Mother, you have never heard from him. Father, no tidings of your boy ever come to you. But if, when you went home tonight, there should be a big fellow sitting by the fireside–not your boy any longer, and yet your own long lost son–after the first surprise and after you had seen that it was your son, tell me, Mother, would you turn him out of doors for all his ingratitude to you? Father, what would you do, first of all? I know what I would do if it were my case–I would fondly kiss that cheek, and bless God that I had lived to see my son again, whatever he might have been, and however much he might have grieved me! If you, then, being evil, neither forget nor forsake your children, will your Father who is in Heaven forget you? Behold, and see if it is possible! God the everlasting Father does so intensely love, so Infinitely love His own children that it must never be dreamt for a moment that it is possible for Him to forget any one of them!
Come, now, and look again. Behold, by faith, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity in Unity, Jesus, the Lamb of God. Look at Him on the Cross. Oh, what griefs He bore there for His people! Take down the blessed body–(you can scarcely bear to handle it), and help to wrap it in its linen cloths, and lay it in the tomb. Why did He suffer thus? Why did He die? For His own loved ones! Then, can He ever forget them? Is it possible? After all that agony, can Jesus forget? Oh, no! Our children may forget us, but the mother remembers how she suffered for the child and she loves it for the very pangs she endured in its birth. She knows the struggles of her widowhood to find bread for the child–how she starved herself to satisfy its hunger. Oh, what agony and self-denial some parents have suffered for their children! But these make them all the dearer and render it all the more impossible that they should ever forget them. Well, then, remembering all this, look into the face of your Savior, who died for you, and will you dare to say that He can possibly forget you? It cannot be! He has engraved you upon the palms of His hands and He will never forget or forsake you!
Then think, also, of that dear and blessed Spirit of God who has come into your heart and striven with you when you resisted Him and, at last, won the day. And, since then, has helped your infirmities, checked your hastiness, awakened you from your sloth and been everything to you that He could be–and do you think that, after all this, He will ever forget or forsake you? Oh, if He had meant to cast you away, He has had many opportunities when He might have done so! Surely, He would never have come to dwell in such a hovel as your fallen nature is if He had not intended to transform it and make it into a pure alabaster palace wherein the living God might dwell! “Behold,” says the Lord. That is, look into this great Truth of God–look deeply into it–and then say to yourself, “My fears of being forgotten or forsaken are all gone, for I am engraved upon the palms of His hands.”
IV. So I close by referring very briefly to the last point, which is this, A RETURN SUGGESTED.
I want, Brothers and Sisters, to speak in a very homely and familiar way to each one of you and, at the same time, to be speaking to myself as well as to you.
Does Christ remember us as I have tried to prove that He does? Then, let us remember Him. To that end He ordainedthat blessed Supper to which many of us are presently coming–the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup in memory of Him. “This do you in remembrance of Me.” Now try to forget everything but your Lord and Savior. Pass an act of oblivion on all your cares, troubles and sorrows–and only look at Him as though, like a mysterious stranger, He stood at the pew door and leaned over you, and you seemed to feel His shadow falling upon you. Now think of Him, for He is very near you, and you are very near to Him.
And, Brothers and Sisters, let us not only remember Him at His Table, but let us remember Him constantly. Let us,as it were, carry His name upon the palms of our hands. Let us ask God to help us always to think of Jesus–never to forget Him, but to have the memory of Him intertwined with our very breathing, with the pulsing of our blood–till our whole nature, like a bell, shall ring out but one note, and that shall be love to Jesus! And our heart shall be like Anacreon’s harp, of which he said that he wished to sing of the deeds of Cadmus, but his heart and his harp resounded only love. Oh, for the love of Christ to be the one all-engrossing, all-absorbing theme of our entire being, till we truly say to Christ, “I have engraved You upon the palms of my hands.”
And, Brothers and Sisters, let us remember Christ practically. We ought so to wear Christ on our hands that whatever we touch should be thereby Christianized. I have heard of the “christening” of babies–that is an idle superstition and a perversion of Christ’s ordinance of Believers' Baptism–but I believe in the Christening of everything a Christian touches! Make it all Christ-like by doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, as the Apostle Paul says, “Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Thus engrave His name upon the palms of your hands.
And, so Brothers and Sisters,
let the name of Christ and your memory of it become vital to you. Not with a broad
phylactery, not with the borders of your garments enlarged, not with outward signs and tokens of which some think a good deal too much in these days–for true religion consists not in a dress of this cut or that, nor does it lie in boasting, like Pharisees, what we are, sounding our own praise at the corners of the streets that all may know it and observe! True religion lies in this–that we cannot live without Christ, that our ordinary life becomes uplifted by the Christ who dwells within us till every meal is a sacrament, every garment is a vestment, every place is an altar, and the whole world a temple in which we are kings and priests because God has made us so! Unto this may we each of us come, and come now!
If any of you have not yet believed in Jesus, oh, how I wish you would! As I am going away for a while, I shall not be able to speak personally to you for some time to come, but I hope that those whom my voice has failed to influence, may be reached by some other servant of the Lord Jesus Christ who shall occupy this pulpit to speak to you in my absence. Oh, that you all knew my Lord! There is none like Him! His bonds are freedom! His service is rest! To die for Him is life! To live for Him is Heaven! God bring you to Him and fasten you to Him forever! Amen, and Amen.