The Nature of Memory and its Weakness

Nature of Memory and its Weakness_Original Sin

Anthony Burgess
Treatise on Original Sin
Part 3, chapter 3, sections 1-7.

Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth.
(2 Peter 1:12)

The original pollution of the Mind and Conscience hath at large been declared; We proceed now to the Memory, which belongeth also to the intellectual part of a man: And as Philosophy informeth us that it is the treasurer which conserveth the species, so Divinity will inform us that it is an evil treasure, or shop, wherein are stored up all kinds of evil.

The Effect of Original Sin on the Memory in 2 Peter 1.

The text mentioned will suppeditate [supply] fit matter for this doctrine. And first, we must diligently explain the words, wherein we may take notice:

1. Of the illataive particle, or note of inference, [“Wherefore“] He had exhorted them to give all diligence to make their calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10), a necessary duty. We strive to make our outward estate, and the evidences of that sure. But make sure of Heaven, make sure of an interest in Christ, for this assurance will be a cordial to thee in thy greatest extremities, it will make thee above the love of life, and the fear of death. This duty he encourageth unto by the consequent benefit thereof, “For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (v. 11). And having laid this foundation, he brings in the inference in my text, “Wherefore I will always put you in remembrance of these things” (v. 12). These truths are so necessary, so excellent, that you are to have them always in your mind; and withal, your memories though regenerate are so weak and sinful, that you need perpetual monitors and prompters to possess your souls with these things.

2. In the second place, we have the Apostle Peter’s care, purpose, and diligence expressed, “I will not be negligent.” The Vulgar Latin renders it, Incipiam, “I will begin” Estius thinketh it did read, but that word is never used, and therefore Estius doth from the Latin go to the Greek copies, which is a practice contrary to the Tridentine Doctrine. The word is used for to neglect, to have no regard, to slight and make no matter of a thing (c.f. Heb. 2:3). Only when the Apostle expresseth his care negatively, “I will not,” we must remember that rule given by Interpreters, that adverbs of denying do often express the contrary with the greater Eemphasis, “I will not be negli­gent,” that is, “I will be very diligent and industrious.”

3. Thirdly, you have the object matter about which this diligence is exercised, ὑπομιμνῄσκω. The word signifieth to bring to mind, to cause to remember, it signifieth any short writing, whereby anything is brought to our mind. The word is used in other places, which will be improved in pursuing the doctrine. This is enough for the present that the holy Apostle doth not disdain to become a monitor and remembrancer unto them, being in this an instrument of the Holy Ghost, whose work it is to bring things to our mind which are for­gotten.

4. Fourthly, you have the aggravation of this from the time. He will put them in remembrance “always.” He will be the good prophet that will lift up his voice and not cease. They must not think his importunity and frequent admonitions needless and uncivil. They need this duty always from him, and therefore in season and out of season, he will suggest it to them.

5. Lastly, there is a further aggravation from the qualification of those he will thus remind, “though ye know them, and be established in the present truth.” This is considerable, they had the true knowledge of these things. If they had been ignorant, if they had not yet understood these things none would wonder at this diligence, but though they know these things, yet he dare not omit this importunity. Again, though they did know, yet they might be wavering and staggering, ready to apostatize from this they did know. No, they are “established,” firmly settled and fixed, and yet their minds and memories need many divine helps to excite and stir them up. Yea this duty upon their memories is so great and necessary, that the Apostle further amplifieth himself herein, as if enough could not be said about it. For at the next verse [v. 13], he giveth us a reason of this faithfulness and diligence, “I think it fit,” or just and righteous.

It did belong to him as an Apostle, he could not do what was his duty if he did fail herein, and that not for once, but continually, as long as he was in this “Taber­nacle” [v. 14], he calleth his body a Tabernacle, that is, Nomen pastorale, and militare, it denoteth the shortness and brevity of his abode in the world, and then the great hardship and difficulty he was to conflict with. It implieth he was but a stran­ger here, as all the godly are. Whereas the Cretians called those places they had on purpose to receive and lodge strangers in, the same word did the Church use and apply to the burial places of believers, signifying hereby, that they were pilgrims and strangers. He useth also a significant word for his death, ἔξοδος, which is applied to the people of Israel, when they came out of Egypt, a place of bondage. So is this world to the godly, therefore death is an exodus. Now in this expression also is couched a rea­son, why he will not cease to put them in mind of these truths, for he shall not be long with them, he will work while he hath day. He remembers that command of our Saviour, negotiamini, work, be diligent merchants to increase spiritual gain while I come [Luke 19:13].

Again, there is another latent reason of this duty in the word, “to stir up” [v. 13]. It is used of those who awaken any out of sleep (Luke 8:24). So that this supposeth even the memories of the most godly to be, as it were, dull and sleepy, very heavy and negligent about what they ought to be diligently exercised with. Yet the Apostle hath not said all his mind herein, for in verse 15 he professeth this care of his for the good of their memories shall extend even after his death, “I will endeavour that after my decease, you may have these things always in remembrance” (2 Peter 1:15). Now that would be done by these very Epistles, they would be as continual mementos to them.

See then here the godly zeal and faithful diligence of a godly Pastor, it extends to the future as well as the present, he is afraid after he is deceased that all he had preached should be forgotten. And doth not expe­rience sadly confirm this? After the death of a godly Minister, how quickly are all his labours, all whose precious truths he had made known, forgotten, as if they never had such a Preacher amongst them? However, if these soul saving truths be forgotten, Peter will take care that the sin should not lie at his door, he will be faithful to do his duty. And 2 Peter 3:1, take notice how again he taketh up this profession of his care and zeal to help their memories. He wrote both these Epistles to “stir up” their “pure minds by way of remembrance.” Their “pure minds,” such as are discovered and tried (as it were) by the sunbeams, the least more, any vain thoughts or sinful motions are discovered and abandoned. Yet though they have such pure minds, he writeth Epistle upon Epi­stle to stir them up by remembrance. And as if all this were not enough to quicken up their memory, the Apostle Jude writing to the same persons doth al­most write the same things verbatim, which the Apostle Peter had written in this second Epistle. Jude 5 he proclaimeth this to be his end, to put them in remembrance, though once they knew this. It was for their memories sake by way of exhortation, not for their understandings by way of instruction.

Now from all this we may gather:

Even the Regenerate Have Weak Memories.

That such is the weakness and sinfulness of the memory, and that even in the regenerate, that they need daily divine helps to provoke it to its duty. And whereas the sinfulness of our memory may be two ways, either 1) actually by a willful forgetting of holy things and a careless neglect of them; or 2) original, whereby the memory through Adam’s fall, as well as the other parts of the soul, are become all over unsanctified, and hath no suitableness or proportion to divine objects and holy duties. I shall speak of this later, though as expressing and emptying itself into actual and willful forgetfulness, for of this original and native pollution of the memory must we understand this text in a great measure, which the Apostle, by frequent filing, would get off, as so much rust, seeing he writeth to those that are sanctified, and as also he speaketh of this as a permanent and an abiding weakness in them.

Now in the regenerate all contracted habits of sin are expelled by virtue of the new birth. And as for actual sins, they are transient, so that there remaineth no other defilement but original [sin], and the relics or immediate products thereof. If then the most holy do need quickening helps to their memory, because of the dullness and slowness in it about holy things, it is plain, the memory, as well as the other faculties of the soul, is depraved by original sin. And if in the sanctified person the memory hath this partial and gradual sinfulness in the unregenerate and natural man, it must be all over polluted and made unsavory about any good thing.

From the Pollution of the Memory all Wickedness is Committed.

The memory of every man by nature is wholly polluted by original sin. It cannot perform those offices and acts for these holy ends as it was at first enabled to do in the state of integrity. It will be very useful and profitable to anatomize the sinfulness of the memory, as we have done of the other intellectual powers, for it is from the pollution of this part that all wickedness is committed. The Scripture makes this the character of all wicked men, that they forget God (Psal. 9:17), implying, that if we did remember God, his Greatness, his Power, his holy Will, we should not fall into any sin: Insomuch that we may in some sense say that all thy evil is committed because of thy evil and sinful memory, hadst thou remembered such and such threatenings, such and such places of Scripture, they would have preserved thee from this impiety.


Two things must be premised before we enter into the main matter:

What We Mean by Memory.

First, what we mean by the memory. Aristotle wrote a little book about Memory and Remembrance and from him ma­ny have taken up large and useless disputes herein. It is not my purpose to teach you with these thorns, it is enough that there is acknowledged 1) a sensitive memory, which is common to men with beasts, and 2) an intellective.

Though that [the intellective memory] be question­ed, but against all reason, for the soul separated doth remember, as appeareth in that parable where Abraham said to Dives, “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things…” (Luke 16:25). Angels also must necessarily remember, because all things are not present to them, therefore past things they cannot know but by way of memory. God is said in the Scripture often to remember, but that cannot be properly, because to him all things past and future are as present, so that he cannot be said to remember properly, no more than to foreknow, only such expressions are used by condescension to our capacity.

Aristotle distinguisheth between memory and remembrance, and this (he saith, as far as is yet observed) no creature can do but man. When therefore I shall speak of the memory, I shall understand it as it is remembrance, and as it is intellectual. For in man we may say his memory is in a great part the understanding, knowing things as they are past. Therefore Augustine, and the Master of Sentences following him (though this be disclaimed by many that came after) make three powers or faculties in the rational part of a man, 1) his understanding, 2) his will, and 3) memory, which they call the created Trinity, and by it, (they say) is resembled the blessed and uncreated Trinity.

Memory is the Understanding of Past Things.

But I shall not dispute this, for I shall speak of memory as the same with the understanding only in this particular: as it is carried out to things that are past; for that is the necessary object of memory, that it must be past, we do not remember a thing present, or a thing future.


A Twofold Weakness of Memory.

In the second place, while we speak of the weakness of the memory about good things, we must take notice of a twofold weakness, a natural weakness, and a sinful weakness.

A natural weakness is that which ariseth from the constitution of the body, and unfit temperature of the brain, for though the actions of the understanding be immaterial, to know and to remember, yet they require the body as the organ and the instrument. So that as the most artificial musician cannot discover his skill upon an instrument whose strings are out of order, so neither can the understanding of a man put forth its noble actions when the body is out of order. Hence we read that some diseases, or other events, have deprived men of their memory so that they have forgot their own name. By this we see that the soul doth act dependently upon the body, being the form informing of a man, and giving his being and operations to him.

Now it’s useful to know this distinction, for many good people, especially when grown in year, do much complain that their memory is gone. They cannot carry away so much of a sermon, or from good books, as once they did, and this doth much grieve them, they look upon themselves as drones, and not bees that car­ry home honey from every flower. But this may support them, that this is a natural affect in the memory, not a sinful one. For as Aristotle observeth, neither in children, or in old men, is there such a capacity for memory. In children, because of the too much moisture. And there­fore it is (saith he) as if a man should imprint a seal in the water, which because of its fluid nature would receive no impression. Nor in old men is there such a capacity of memory, because of their dryness and siccity, as if a man should imprint a seal upon a dry piece of wood, it would not receive any form or character. If then in thy old age, thy memory faileth, know this is a natural imbecility, as sickness and pain is not a sin.

Others abuse this distinction, for when they are urged to holy duties, called upon to remember what hath been preached, then they excuse themselves with their bad memory. God help them they have an ill memory. But if thou hast a memory for other things, jests and merry tales, or businesses of profit, and no memory for holy things. This is thy sin, thou hast no memory in the these good things because thou hast no heart, no delight about them, as is more to be shewed.

Yea, I must add, that though a natural weakness in the memory be not a sin, yet it is the fruit of sin, and so ought deeply to humble thee, for thy memory would have had no such defects and weaknesses if Adam had not fallen. As therefore diseases and death, though they be not sin, yet are the effects of sin, and therefore we are to humble ourselves under them, so thou art to do under thy imperfect memory, though sicknesses or old age hath much impaired it.


Our work is to discover the sad and universal pollution of the memory.

And by the memory we mean only the mind as it extends its actions to things that are past. And thus, the Scripture speaketh, “To stir up your pure minds by remembrance” (2 Peter 3:1). “Put them in mind to be subject…etc. (Titus 3:1). Mind is therefore memory. Thus, Augustine also maketh memory in a man to be either the soul, or the power and faculty of the soul. Thus, the Latin Etymologers make memini reminiscere, to come of mens [the mind]. Yea Minerva, made the goddess of learning, is, Quasi Mineriva, à memini. And common speech amongst us maketh mind and memory all one, as when we say, “it was quite out of my mind,” etc. So that both the Scripture and the judgement of the learned, yea and the use of the vulgar, will allow us to speak of the memory as nothing else but the mind considering of things as past.


The Great Usefulness of the Memory.

But before we speak to the discovery of this memory, it is good to take notice of what use and consequence it is, so when we shall consider the dignity and serviceableness of the memory, we may then bewail the sinfulness thereof. For when it is made sinful, it is as if a fountain were poisoned of which all must drink, or as the air pestilential, which all must receive in their nostrils. If the memory be corrupted then all is corrupted. Hence, all wicked men are said to forget God (Psa. 9:17).

Memory is of so great use that the Heathens made a goddess of it, yea they make it to be the mother of the Muses of all Arts, of all Wisdom and Prudence. No tongue can either express the serviceableness of it, or the nature of it, not the serviceableness of it. For if there were no memory, there could be no discourse, no civil society. If there were no memory, a man could not take heed of any danger or prevent any mischief. Hence they attribute it to the forgetfulness and stupidity of the fly, that when it is slapped off from the meat, and was in danger of death, yet it will immediately fly to it again. Thus would man without memory plunge himself into all misery. If there were no memory, there could be no learning, no human sciences, for memory is made the mother of them.

Yea, if there were no memory, there would be no religion, no worship of God, or service of him. Thus both the natural, civil, and religious life of a man would be destroyed were there not a memory. So that we are infinitely bound to praise God for this power left in us, and as deeply to humble ourselves that it is so corrupted, that it cannot do its proper acts in a spiritual way at last, thereby to promote our happiness, our memory helpeth to damn us, not to save us.


The Nature of the Memory.

And as for the nature of memory, though Aristotle and others after him have undertaken to say much about it, yet Augustine doth much bewail the ignorance and weakness of a man in this thing, (l. 10. conf.) calling it the unsearchable recesses and vast concavities of the memory, saying, “It is in vain for a man to think to understand the nature of the Heavens, when he cannot know what his memory is.” Under this difficulty (he saith) he did labour and toil, and yet could not come to any sure knowledge.

This is certain, that the things we remember are not in our souls themselves. When we remember such a tree or stone, the tree or stone is not really in us. Hence (saith Augustins) we may doloris laeti reminisci, and laetitiae dolentes reminisci, Remember with joy former sorrow, or with sorrow former joy. Yea (he saith) we may oblivionis reminisci, we may remember our forgetfulness. Now if these things were really in us, it could not be but that sorrow remembered would make us sorrowful, or forgetfulness remembered make us forgetful. The objects then remembered are in us by way of species or images, the Phantasmata [i.e. mental impressions of real things] are there conserved, and when by them we come to remember, then they are […]. Hence (they say) that sometimes a man thinketh he remembereth, when he doth not, yea he cannot tell whether he remembereth such a thing or no, because (say they) the Phantasma is thus absolutely presented, and not as […]. Even as a man may look upon a picture, either absolutely, as having such lineaments and colour, or relatively, as an image, whereby we come to remember such an one.

But these Philosophical notions about Phantasmata and species are so obscure, that it is better with Augustine to acknowledge our ignorance of this noble and admirable power in the soul, whereby it doth remember things. Whatsoever it be, though given us as an admirable and useful gift, yet now it is grossly polluted, and is the conserver of all evil and vanity.


Demonstrations of the Pollution of the Memory.

That the memory is thus polluted will appear,

1. By several discoveries thereof.

2. By the particulars wherein.

1. We Need the Holy Spirit to Sanctify and Help our Memory.

In the former way, herein we have a full demonstration of the depraved nature of our memory, in that we need the Spirit of God to sanctify and help it. One work or office of the Spirit of God is to be a remembrance unto us about holy things. It’s the gift of God’s Spirit to give thee a good memory, to make thee able to remember holy things. This is clearly and unquestionably af­firmed in John 14:26, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” Here we see the Spirit of God hath a twofold office or work to do:

1. To teach us holy things. We are blind and unbelieving, not knowing spiritual objects, till God’s Spirit doth teach us. But this is not all, suppose we be taught and instructed, is all done then? Do we need the Spirit of God no more? Yea. Therefore:

2. The Spirit of God putteth itself forth in a further work, which is to bring the things thus taught to our remembrance. As then the mind in respect of understanding and knowing cannot do anything about what is spiritual without the Spirit of God, so neither can the mind about remembering. Certainly if the memory of itself could do these things, the Spirit of God would be in vain. If the moon and stars could give so much light as to make a day, the Sun would be in vain.

Hence the children of God do evidently find and feel the work of God’s Spirit upon their memories, as well as their understandings. For in their temptations, how ready to be overwhelmed? How ready to be swallowed up with such thoughts? And then the Spirit of God doth seasonably remind the soul of such promises, of such comfortable arguments. So also upon the temptation to any sin, the Spirit of God doth interpose and prevent it by making them to remember such a threatening, such a place of Scripture, and this stoppeth them from the evil they were ready to do. For they are the disciples themselves, though sanctified and made so eminent to whom this Spirit of remembrance is promised as useful and necessary. If then the Spirit’s presence and assistance be thus necessary even to a regenerate man’s memory, this argueth the natural defilement and impotency of it to any good thing. For where nature is able, there the Spirit of God is not necessarily required.

2. From the End of Scripture.

A second discovery of the pollution of the memory may be from the end of the Scripture, why God would have it written, to be a perpetual monument to his Church. Among other ends this is one to be a memorial to us, to put us in continual mind of the duties required of us. Thus, the Apostle Peter endeavoureth to make believers always remembering of the Gospel by those Epi­stles he did write to them.

It is true, the orthodox do justly refuse that of Bel­larmine, who will make the Scripture to be only utile communitorium, as if that were the chief end, why the Scriptures were written, namely, to serve for our me­mory only, and not to be a rule of our faith. For he himself doth acknowledge it to be a partial rule. But the principal and chief end why the Scriptures are delivered to the Church is to be a Canon and Rule to it, so that the Church must not believe, worship, or live, otherwise then the Scripture commands. This is not a partial but a total rule, neither may anything be added to it, or detracted from it. Yet we grant also that the Scripture may have other secondary and subservient ends, whereof this is not the meanest, to be useful to our memory.

Certainly, one great cause of so much evil committed by thee is forgetfulness of the Scripture. The Apostle James, 1:25, doth notably instance to this purpose. He compareth a forgetful hearer of the Word to one that looketh in the glass, and going away straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. If therefore we did abide and continue looking in this glass, take notice what we are by the direction of the Word, how quickly would we reform? He that doth make a practical use of remembering the Scripture to regulate and order his life accordingly, can never miscarry. To have the Word of God in thy memory against such and such a temptation, would prevent all the evil thou fallest into. John 15:20, when our Saviour would encourage his disciples against the hatred of the world, he saith, “Remember the Word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his master.” Remember this truth, and that will make thee suffer more willingly. So, John 16:4 “These things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them.”

To remember Scripture in the season, to have the Word of God in thy mind when a temptation like Joseph’s mistress is soliciting of thee, this will cause that no deadly thing shall hurt thee. For the Word of God is a two-edged sword, it’s an hammer, it’s fire, it’s the Sword of the Spirit, by it both the Devil and all temptations are subdued. Christ overcame the Devil by Scripture. Now if that be not in thy memory, then it cannot be any ways serviceable to thee in the time of need. Exercise your memories therefore in the Scripture, and that not for memories sake, much less for ostentation to shew what a good memory you have above others, but for a practical and holy use. Treasure up such a place against thy drunkenness, thy whoredoms. Treasure up such a place against pride, worldliness, and covetous desires. What a precious and excellent memory is that which is like a mine of gold, or an Apothecary’s shop that can from the Scripture presently fetch what Antidotes against sin, or cordials to revive that he pleaseth?

And truly our memory should be filled up only with Scripture considerations. This is the cabinet and choice closet of thy soul. If a man should take his cabinet that was for jewels and precious stones, and fill it only with mud and dirt, would it not be exceeding great folly? No less is it when thy memory is full of stories and merry tales, and in the meanwhile rememberest not what God saith in his Word, which would be so useful to thee for thy soul’s good. Acknowledge then the goodness of God to thee in providing the Scriptures as an help to thy memory, and withal know that seeing the Spirit thought it necessary to commit them to writing, hereby is fully declared the pollution and sinfulness of thy memory. For in Heaven, when the memory will be fully sanctified and perfected, then there will be no more use of the Bible. We shall not then need to read the Scriptures to quicken up our minds, for all imperfection will then be done away.

3. From the Memorable Parts of Scripture.

Thirdly, the sinfulness and weakness of the memory is manifested not only by the end of the Scriptures in general, but also several parts of the Word of God are peculiarly so ordered that they might be the more easily conserved in our memory. Thus when any great deliverances were vouchsafed to the Church, those mercies were made into Psalms and Songs, that for the meters sake, and the pleasantness of the matter, all might have them in remembrance. This method did signify how dull and stupid our memories are, and how apt to forget the benefits and mercies of God, and therefore our memories are to be helped therein.

Thus the 119th Psalm is put into an alphabetical order, thereby to further our memory about it. Yea there are two Psalms (Psalm 8, and Psalm 70), which have this title, “to bring to remembrance.” And the matter of those two Psalms containeth a complaint under afflictions and earnest importunity with God for deliverance. The Spirit of God by instruments made them to be composed for this end, that afflicted and troubled souls should have them in remembrance. And indeed we may say of every chapter, as well as of those Psalms, a chapter to bring to remembrance. Yea, of many verses, a verse to bring to remembrance.

And because the memory is so slow and dull about holy things, you may read of a peculiar command to the Jews in this case, and although the same obligation doth not belong to us, yet it teacheth us all what forgetfulness and oblivion is ready to seize upon us about holy things. Numbers 15:39-40, God doth there command Moses to speak to the children of Israel, that they make fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations. It was a perpetual ordinance. And why must this be done? To remember all the Commandments of God. This was God’s special command.

The Church under the Gospel may not in imitation hereof prescribe ce­remonies, or appoint images to stir up the dull memory of man. The Popish Church commendeth their crucifixes and their images upon this account, because so helpful to the memory, being the Laymen’s Books. But, though the memory be greatly polluted, yet it belongs not to man, but to God as part of his regality, to appoint what he pleaseth to stir up and excite the memory in holy things. God hath appointed other things, the Word, and ministry, and sacraments for our memory (as is to be shewed), and therefore this is a devotion which God will reject, because not having his superscription upon it.

4. From the Ministry.

Fourthly, That the memory of man is naturally polluted is plain, by the ministry appointed in the Church of God by Christ himself, for one end of that is, to bring us to remembrance. Thus, you heard the Apostle Peter speaking, he thought it meet, just, and righteous while he was in the flesh, to put them always in remembrance of these things (2 Peter 1:13). So, Jude also. Thus, Paul enjoineth Timothy, “Of these things put them in remembrance” (2 Tim. 2:14). So, 1 Tim. 4:6, “If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ.”

He is not a good or faithful minister of Christ that is not diligent to put you in mind of Scripture things. The ministry is not only to instruct the ignorant, to convert the profane, but also to put into mind those that do know and are converted. They are like Peter’s cock, upon his crowing, Peter was brought to remembrance, and he went out and wept bitterly. Every sermon we preach should bring thy sins and thy duties to remembrance. The Spirit of God (you heard) had this office to bring things to your remembrance, and the ministry is the instrument by which he doth it. Alexander would have a monitor to be always prompting this memento te esse hominem. And the Romans, when riding in glorious triumph, would have some to remember them of their mortality. But Christ hath provided a more constant help for thee, to have spiritual watchmen and remembrancers, who are never to cease minding of thee. Say not then, “what should I go to hear a sermon for, I know already as much as can be said?” For though that be false, yet if it were granted, you must know the ministry is for your memory as well as judgement, and who needeth not to have that often quickened to its duty?

5. From the Sacraments.

Fifthly, in that Christ hath appointed sacraments in the Church, which among other ends are to quicken up and excite our memory, it is plain that they are polluted, that we are prone to forget all the benefits of God, though never so precious. Sacraments have for their generic nature a sign. They are signs, and that not only obsignatives and in some sense exhibitive, but also commemorative.

Hence in the very institution of the Lord’s Supper we have this injunction, “This do in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24). Not that the commemoration of Christ’s death with thankfulness and joy is the total and adequate end of the Lord’s Supper, as the Socinians affirm, making us to receive no new special influences of God’s grace thereby upon our souls, or any renewed exhibitive communion of Christ with his benefits to us, but merely a comme­moration, of what benefit is past. As (say they) the Israelites, when they celebrated that public mercy of deliverance out of Egypt, had not thereby a new deliverance, but only there was a celebration of the old. Thus they would have it in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. But the principal and chief end of the Lord’s Supper is to convey further degrees of grace and comfort to the true receivers. Yet we acknowledge it also a special and great end in the Sacrament to be commemorative, and that Christ hereby would have our memories quickened about that infinite love shewed to us in dying for us.

Now what can be more demonstrative of the naughtiness and sinfulness of the memory than this very thing? For, who would not think that Christ’s voluntary giving up of himself to such an accursed and ignominious death for us would always be in our minds? Such signal and transcendent expressions of love would be with us rising, and waking, and going to bed, that though the Devil and the world did never so importunately crowd in with their suggestions, yet this should always be uppermost in our hearts and affections. But Christ, by this very institution, doth hereby manifest what dull and stupid memories we have, and that about the greatest mercies that we are capable of. Would it not be strange if a malefactor should forget his pardon, or Ra­hab forget the scarlet thread in the window, that was to be the preservative of her life? Yet our forgetfulness is greater when we do not remember our Saviour and his sufferings for us.

And for the other Sacrament of Baptism, how greatly is our obligation by it forgotten? How grossly we do forget that covenant with God, and the dedication of us unto God, renouncing the Devil and his lusts? That was appointed to be a commemorative sign, but how sinful is our memory? For we do (as it were) need another sign to put us in mind of that, and so ad infinitum. What little power hath the memory of these Sacraments upon us? Yea, how little do they come in our mind, thereby to improve our duties and consolations?

6. From Adam’s Estate of Innocence.

Lastly, that our memories are naturally sinful will appear if we consider how it was with Adam in the state of integrity. He was made “upright” (Eccl. 7:29), which doth extend to the spiritual perfection of all the parts of his soul. As his mind was endowed with all necessary light and knowledge, so his memory also with all strength and vigor. Forgetfulness of anything that was his duty was no more incident unto him than any other sin. It was not because naturally he had a bad or a forgetful memory that made him break the Law of God, for if God had created him sound and perfect in all other parts of his soul, only left him to a weak and frail memory, he could not have been happy, either in temporal or spiritual considerations. As his soul was thus perfected, so his body was in a sound and well tempered constitution, having no redundancy of humors thereby to hinder the operations of the soul by memory. He was not subject to diseases or old age, or anything else that doth impair the memory of man, but now our sun is become a dunghill, and our gold dross.

As original sin hath pestilentially infected all parts of the soul, so the memory hath not escaped this pollution. For where it is naturally able, there it is spiritually impotent. When it might remember if improved and put upon, there is it negligent and careless. How many say they cannot remember any good thing delivered to them? Press them about the Scripture and the good truths of God preached to them, and they will justify themselves by pleading the badness of their memory, whereas it is for want of a good heart, and a good will. If thy affections were ardent and burning about these things, thy memory would be more retentive of good things then they are. Besides, little do you know what your memory would do if you did put it upon frequent exercise. Few know what their memories could do if exercised about holy things because few are industrious and active to put it on work.

Augustine relateth of his friend Simplicius, how he was desired to repeat verses out of Virgil backwards and forwards, and the prose of Tully, with an inversed order. And this he did to their great admiration, yet Augustine saith that Simplicius did solemnly protest that he never did so before, neither had he ever tried, whether his memory were able for such an exercise or no. By this example we see that none know what their memories would do if they did more carefully and diligently put them upon it. But grant that the memory be naturally impotent, though this you heard be not formally a sin, yet it is the fruit of it, and so matter of humiliation. Learned men say that what fit constitution and temperature is required in the brain for a sound and solid judgement, the contrary is for a good and strong memory, and therefore (they say) it is that a strong judgement and a strong memory seldom go together. As (saith Erasmus) the beast Lynx hath a most acute sight, but is a most stupid and forgetful creature.

Now if this be so, then this ariseth from Adam’s Fall, for no doubt Adam had both a perfect judgement, and a perfect memory, and it cometh through original sin that the body is so distempered, that what helpeth for one faculty of the soul, impedeth and hindereth the other. The sum of this is that wherein our memories do now come short of that which Adam’s memory while perfect was able to do, that is either expressly and formally a sin, or the immediate issue and punishment of sin.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s