Pollution of the Memory by Original Sin

Pollution of the Memory by Original Sin

Anthony Burgess
Treatise on Original Sin
Part 3, chapter 3, sections 8-10.


Wherein the memory of man is polluted.

This sure foundation then being said, let us proceed to shew wherein the memory of man is so greatly polluted.

Natural Forgetfulness vs. Moral Forgetfulness.

First, very remarkably, if you consider all the several objects which by the Scripture we are daily to have in our memory, and we are naturally in a constant and daily forgetfulness of them. Only it is good to take notice of a distinction which Vossius (De Origine Idolat. lib. 1. cap. 11.) observeth out of Bonaventure, that there is a twofold forgetfulness, 1. When the very species or images of things are quite obliterated and deleted, this may be called a natural forgetfulness. 2. When though the species be retained and we do remember, yet through classlessness and negligence, we do not attend to that duty which should flow from our memory, and this may be called a moral forgetfulness. And indeed we have too much experience of this later kind of forgetfulness, for how many are there that do remember sermons, that do carry in their minds several texts of Scripture, and that against those very sins they do commit daily? Now in the Scripture language this is forgetfulness, such are said not to remember because they do not what they ought to do upon their memory. In both these considerations I shall speak of the pollution of the memory.

Superior Objects of Memory.

1. God.

The first and most signal object of our memory, which the Scripture speaketh of superior objects is God himself. God is not only the object of our faith and of our love, of our minds and wills, but also of our memory. We should always keep up the remembrance of God in our thoughts, and this would be a most potent antidote against all kind of sin. Therefore is all evil committed, because we do not remember God at that time.

Deuteronomy 8:18, Moses doth there command the people of Israel to take heed of trusting in their own righteousness and goodness, or of attributing their wealth and riches to their own power. But (saith he) “thou shalt remember the Lord thy God,” implying that the Sun and the night can no more stand together than the remembering of God and carnal confidence can. The ambitious man, the voluptuous man, remembering God, would find it to be like thunder and lightning upon the soul. This would immediately stop him in his ways of iniquities.

Thus 2 Sam. 14:11, that suborned woman of Tekoah in her disguised parable to David, complaining of some that would rise up against her to destroy her son, she desireth the King to stop the revengers wrath by this argument, “Let the King remember the Lord thy God.” Thus when thou art solicited, enticed to any evil way, remember thou God, the infinite God, the just God, the omniscient God, the dreadful and terrible God in all his ways of anger.

Nehemiah also maketh use of this argument to quicken up the Jews against sinful fear and cowardice in God’s work. Nehemiah 4:14, “I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible.” This God complaineth of, Isa. 57:11, “Thou hast not remembered me, nor laid it to thy heart,” and therefore were they so propense to all their abominations.

These texts may suffice to inform that our memories ought constantly to be fixed upon God, and no sooner do we let him out of our mind, but immediately some sin or other is committed. But how unspeakably is the memory of every man naturally polluted herein? When is God in their thoughts? Amongst those millions and millions of objects which thou dost remember, when is the great God, the just God, the holy God thought on? May you not see it by the bold impiety and undaunted wickedness of all unregenerate men, that they remember not God? Yea the godly themselves find in part this pollution upon their memory. Whence arise those carnal fears, those dejected thoughts? Is it not because you forget the greatness and goodness of God? Bewail thy memory sinfulness, as well as other sins.

2. God Ought to be in Our Memory at Certain Times More Especially than at Others

2. As the Scripture prescribes the object of our memory, God himself, so it doth instance in one time more than at another. Though at all times God is to be remembered, yet in one time of our age, though there be greatest cause, yet our lusts and desire after other things do greatly hebetate our memory. We have the injunction from Solomon himself, Eccl. 12:1, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.” Here you see who is to be remembered and when he is to be remembered, God is to be remembered, and that in the time of our youth. But do not the strong effects of original sin heightened also by actual sins discover herein most palpable impiety in young persons, they remember their lusts, their pleasures in the days of their youth, and God is never in all their thoughts.

Oh where may we find a young Timothy, that was acquainted with the Scripture from his infancy! Where an Obadiah that feared God from the youth? Do not most young persons live so negligently about holy things, as if they were allowed to be dissolute, as if the things of Heaven and eternity did not belong to them? As if Solomon had said the contrary, Do not remember God in the days of thy youth, be not so strict and precise, but follow thy pastimes and pleasures? Thus the very memory of God and holy things is a burden to young persons. They think Solomon spake far better, Eccl. 11:9 when he saith, “Rejoice, O young man in thy youth, let thy heart cheer thee, and walk in the ways of thy heart, remove sorrow and evil away.” They like this well. This is good, but there is a sting in that which followeth, “Know thou that for all these things God will bring thee to judgment.” This will quickly damp all thy youthful jollities.

Let then young persons especially bewail the sinfulness and forgetfulness of their memory herein. This is the best and most flourishing time for your memory. Now it is put upon to learn either mechanical trades or the Liberal Arts, your memories are most drawn out in inferior things, but take the advantage to employ it more about holy things. You hear old persons complain they have lost their memory, they grow forgetful, therefore fix your memories upon good things while you may.

3. Scripture.

3. The Scripture commends the Word of God likewise as the object of our memory. Timothy had learnt the Scripture from his infancy. The Word of God was for this end (amongst others, as you heard) committed to writing, that so we might the more readily have it in our memories. Malachi 4:4, the prophet commands them to remember the Law of Moses with the statutes and judgments, yea they were to have such a ready and familiar knowledge of the Word of God, that when they were rising or walking, they were to be speaking of them (Deut. 6:7-9). We may there see what care is taken that the Law of God should be always in their mind.

But do we not evidently behold the cursed and wretched pollution of man’s memory in this particular? Why is it that little children will remember any songs sooner than the principles of Religion? Why is it that many persons who are not able to remember any thing of the Scripture, or the sermons they have heard, yet can remember ballads and songs? They can remember their youthful pranks and talk of them with delight, but they cannot give any account of the good truths that in their younger years were preached to them? When do ye hear such say, such a sermon wounded me at heart, it sticketh still upon me, I shall never forget it? Now is not the sinfulness of the memory greatly to be bewailed in this particular? If it were holy and sanctified, it would take more delight and joy to remember Scripture truths than anything else. Whereas now thy memory is like a sieve that lets the corn and weighty grain fall through, but the light refuse stuff it retaineth. Thus what is solid and would do thy soul good, that quickly passeth away. Oh that we could not say our sermons pass away as a tale that is told, for those you do remember, and you will carry a long while in your mind, empty, frothy things, those abide long with you! Would you not judge it madness in the husbandman, if he should pluck up and hinder the growth of his corn, and let cockle and tare, with other weeds flourish? Thus thou dost about thy memory, throw away the flowers and keep the weeds, whereas thy memory should be like the holiest of holies, nothing but what is select and sanctified should enter therein.

4. The Works of God.

4. That I may not be too long in these instances, the works of God, whether in his mercy, or in his wrath, they are to be the object of our memory. Thus the Scripture speaketh often of remembering his marvelous works. Matth. 16:19, Christ reproveth his disciples because they did not remember the miracle of the loaves. All the great mercies to his Church, all the severe judgments of God upon those that hate him, should be kept in constant remembrance from generation to generation. But who seeth not the sinfulness of our memory in this particular? What liar remembereth Ananias and Saphira’s judgment? What unclean person Zimri and Cozbi (Num. 25)? What drunkard Belshazzar’s handwriting on the wall?


Inferior Objects of Memory.

We are discovering the particulars wherein the memory of man is so greatly polluted. We have instanced in the object of it, which is God, and the things immediately relating to God. These things we constantly forget, though God gave us a memory chiefly for these things. In the next place, there are objects in the inferior region (as it were) which the Scripture commendeth to our memory, and about that also we shall find our minds never exercised therein. That I may not be infinite, I shall select some few of those Inferior Objects.

1. Our Past Sins.

First, it is a duty often urged in Scripture to exercise our memory about our sins past, to bring them to mind, and accordingly to humble ourselves and repent. But is not every man’s memory naturally polluted herein? How many sins are there committed many years ago? How many youth sins which thou never hast a bitter remembrance of? It is not wormwood and gall to thee to think of thy former vanities. Thus, the memory, well exercised, is the introduction to repentance. A man can never repent that doth not first remember. Can he humble himself for that which he hath forgotten?

Ezek. 16:61-63, God there makes a gracious covenant and promise of pardon and forgiveness to the Israelites, and then he sheweth that this fire of his love shall melt and thaw their hearts, though like iron, they shall be ashamed and confounded. But how is all this done? By remembering. “Then thou shalt remember thy ways, and be ashamed,” so that it is impossible to set upon the work of repentance and conversion to God unless first thy memory be excited up, unless thou look upon thy former life, and remember this have I done, and thus I have lived, such sins and follies come into my mind. Yea, in true repentance thy sins will always be in thy memory, when eating, or drinking, or walking, thou wilt be thinking, Oh the wretch that I have been! Oh the beast and fool that I was in such and such impieties!

Thus Job and David remembered the sins of their youth. Psa. 51:3, David acknowledging that murder and adultery which he had committed a year before, yet he saith, “My sin is ever before me.” Thus you see, in repentance the memory is wonderfully quickened, bringeth those sins to mind that have been committed many years ago, and therefore you have the expression (1 Kings 8:47) of a people repenting, “If they shall bring back to their heart,” so it is in the original, we render it, “If they shall bethink themselves.” By this, we see that in true conversion there is a bringing back again of our sins to our hearts, that whereas we had forgot this and that sin which might be charged upon us, now we begin to arraign ourselves, and bring in a severe indictment against our own souls for such and such transgressions. Oh then, mourn bitterly for thy evil and wicked memory herein!

How many sins, how many iniquities even like the sand on the sea shore might come into thy mind and amaze thee, giving thee no rest, till thou hadst obtained the pardon of them? But thou art so far from this that rather thou strivest and labourest to put them out of thy memory. If thy sins come to thy mind, presently thou divertest thy thoughts, turnest thy memory to other things. As the noise of the cart wheel, because nearer to us, maketh us not hear the noise of thunder at that time, so other things more delightsome and pleasing, being next in our memory, we wholly forget what might turn to our salvation. Hence it is that natural men love no good conference, no reproof, no powerful preaching that may bring their sins to remembrance, but say as the woman to Elisha, “What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? Art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance?” (1 Kings 17:18). So that herein our desperate pollution is seen, that we bring not our sins to our remembrance, yea we voluntarily forget them, use all the means we can, that we may never have them in our minds.

2. Examples of Others.

Secondly, the bad or good examples of others we should remember, and accordingly imitate or avoid them. All the examples of wicked and godly men should be so many monuments, so many memorials to us. The inscription upon Senacherib’s tomb was, “Whosoever looks on me, let him be godly, by remembering the wrath of God upon me for my evil ways.”

Our Saviour commands us to “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 7:32). In her we have such an instance of God’s wrath, that it ought never to be forgotten, and therefore, saith Augustine, turned into a pillar of salt that she might season us. God had delivered her out of Sodom from the fire and brimstone ready to have consumed her, and withal he chargeth her not to look back. But she, either out of curiosity, or out of a worldly affection and desire to her goods that were left behind, looketh back, upon which God doth immediately punish her in this wonderful and unheard manner. Now our Saviour applieth this to everyone who taketh upon him the profession of Christ, leaveth off his former conversation, but afterward returneth to it again. And is not this the condition of too many, that do not only with Lot’s wife look back to Sodom, but even go back into Sodom again? How terrible will the later end of such be? Remember this dreadful instance, you who for a while give over your profanity and impiety, but afterward fall to it again, such are not fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Thus also we should take notice of all the good examples we meet with in the holy Scripture, what good men there were, how they lived, and how God blessed them. Our memories should be a good treasury, whereby we should be abundantly furnished to do the good and avoid the evil. Lege Historiam ne fias Historia, but rather remember histories and examples, lest God make thee an example. Thus Heb. 13:7, they are commanded to remember such who had been guides to them, and to follow their faith, considering the end of their conversation. How holy, blessed, and comfortable it was, the godly ministers and holy pastors God hath given to his Church, you should diligently remember, taking notice how God was with them in their doctrine, in their lives, in their deaths. This would much prevent that apostasy of many into errors, and following after heretical persons. Do but remember how wonderfully God was in the spirits and lives of many holy pastors in the Church, who did bear witness against such errors, as many now are led aside with. Who would not desire to live the lives and die the deaths of such holy gracious men?

3. The Former Works of God’s Spirit Upon Us.

Thirdly, another object of our memory commended in Scripture is the former works of God’s Spirit which happily have been upon us, but we have decayed and revolted. This were alone necessary for many a man, and especially in these times. Remember what love thou didst once bear to the ordinances. Remember what delight and sweetness thou didst once find in them, but now thou hast cast them off. Thus the Apostle remindeth the Galatians, “Where is then the blessedness ye spake of?” (Gal. 4:15). Once they did so rejoice in Paul’s ministry, accounted it a blessing of an eminent nature, but now began to slight it.

There are also many who have formerly been zealous and active for good things, they manifested their good desires about the things of God to all the world, but now they are become like so many clods of earth, they have forsaken the better part, which with Mary once they did choose, and are either turned dissolute or earthly, crawling upon the ground like so many worms. Thus these flourishing trees are quite withered, having neither fruit nor leaves. Thus the Church of Ephesus, guilty of partial apostasy, is enjoined to remember from whence she is fallen (Rev. 2:5). And this counsel is to be given to many persons, Remember it was otherwise with thee once. Remember it was not so with thee as it is now. The time hath been thy heart hath been much affected with the Word of God preached. The time hath been thou hadst family duties, and daredst not to neglect the family worship of God. But now, what is become of all this religion? You that began in the Spirit, do you not end in the flesh?

Especially your memories are often to be stirred up and quickened, who have been under many fears and dangers, who have been at the point of death. Oh what thoughts, what resolutions have you made against sin! What bitter thoughts and apprehensions had you about your former evil ways? But (alas) how quickly are all those agonies of soul forgotten? In this your memories are very much polluted, that all your vows, all your promises to God, all your fears and terrors are forgotten. Thou that art now embracing of thy lusts, entertaining thy Delilah’s again. Oh remember what thou didst think of these things when thou didst look upon thyself as a dying man! Oh remember what woes and wounds were upon conscience! What confident expressions, if ever God did recover thee again, if ever thou wert delivered again, all the world should see thy repentance and reformation? These things thou shouldest remember, and shame thyself, yea be confounded and never able to open thy mouth to excuse thyself.

4. Our End, and the Day of Judgment.

Fourthly, the Scripture doth propound to our memory, as a special object, never to slip out of it, the consideration of our later end, the day of death, the Day of Judgment. These things are to be constantly in our memory. The neglect of this is made by the prophet Jeremiah a bitter instance in his Lamentations concerning the people of Israel. “She remembereth not her last end, therefore she came down wonderfully” (Lam. 1:9). Here the forgetting of her later end is made the cause of all those strange and wonderful judgments which come upon them. Thus Isa. 47:7, Babylon is there arraigned for her pride and arrogance, and she did not lay the judgments of God to heart, neither did she remember the latter end of it.  And how pathetically is God’s desire expressed, “Oh that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end” (Deut. 32:29). Here you see the sum of all godliness is expressed, in considering our later end.

No wonder then if men who forget their death and the Day of Judgment be violently carried on to all excess of riot. For what should stop or stay them in their paths? Whereas didst thou remember (as Solomon adviseth his young man), that for all this thou must die, thou must be brought to judgment, this would bind him (as it were) hand and foot. Quicken then up thy memory, whatsoever thou forgettest, do not forget that thou art a mortal dying man, that the Day of Judgment is coming upon thee, which thou canst not avoid. The memory of this would make thee fly from every enticing sin, as Joseph did from his mistress.

5. The Afflictions of Others.

Lastly, the Scripture requireth that we should remember the desolation and troubles that are upon others, especially the Church of God. So that although it be never so well with us, though God give us our heart’s desire, yet the remembrance of the afflictions and straits of others should make us mourn and pray for them. Thus Col. 4:18, Paul calleth upon them to remember his bonds. So Heb. 13:3, “Remember them that are in bonds as bound with them.” What an hard and great duty is this, yet if thou art not a dead member in the body, if spiritual life be in thee, thou wilt remember the sad condition, the afflicted estate of many of God’s children, when thou enjoyest all thy soul longeth for.

It was thus with good Nehemiah, he was in the prince’s palaces, he wanted nothing for his own advantage, yet he mourned and was sad from day to day because he remembered how it was with Jerusalem. See how impossible a thing almost David maketh it to forget Jerusalem, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning; If I remember thee not, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; If I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Psal. 137:5-6). Here is a gracious worthy spirit. See what David resolveth shall be in his memory more than the chiefest good in this world, he will forget his own friends, his own joys, yea his own self, sooner than the Church’s good.

Now may not even a godly man bewail his forgetfulness herein? Thou mindest thy own estate, thy own family, seekest thy own self, but how little is thy memory about the affairs of the Church? Thou dost not remember how many afflicted Josephs, how many impoverished Lazaruses there may be in the Church of God? How many exiles and banished persons? How many desirous to take up the crumbs that fall from thy table? Did we remember the afflictions and straights of others it would put us more upon prayer for them, and it would also make us walk more thankfully and humbly for our mercies than we do. And thus you see, though the memory be a vast treasure, though it hath infinite recesses and capacious receptacles, yet the Scripture hath prescribed matter enough to fill every corner (as it were) and if the memory were thus frighted, if it were such a good storehouse, how happy would it be? Whereas naturally it’s like a cage of unclean birds, and a den of thieves.

I proceed therefore to shew (as it was to Ezekiel about the Jews) still more abomination in this memory of ours.


The Memory is polluted in respect of its inward viciosity adhering to it.

Secondly, As the memory is thus defiled about its proper objects, so there is much inward viciosity adhering to it. And this we may take notice of as a main one: The dullness, sluggishness, and stupidity of it, especially as to heavenly things. Who can give any other reason why good things, holy things, should not be remembered as well as evil and sinful things, but only the native pollution of the memory?

And from hence it is that there is such a lethargy (as it were) upon the memory. For if Peter writing to those who were sanctified, and that had pure minds, yet he thought it meet to stir them up (a metaphor from men asleep) who need to be awakened (2 Peter 3:1), how much more doth the memory of a natural man need stirring and exciting? There is then a wonderful stupidity and sleepiness (as it were) upon the memory, it is even rusty (as it were) and unfit for any use. Men do not exercise and put their memories upon practice, little do they know what they could remember, if they did mind it, and exercise themselves to remember what is good.

Thou complainest of a bad memory, of a slippery memory, no, it is thy laziness, it’s thy bad heart, it’s thy want of diligence. Thy memory would be as good and active for holy things as it is for earthly things if you did put it in practice more. But the memory being naturally dull and stupid, thou lettest it alone, thou never improvest it, never awakenest it, and so through thy forgetfulness thou comest eternally to perish. This lethargy upon thy memory, though a sad disease, yet might be cured, if thou wert real and industrious about i. Much praying and much practicing of it in holy things would make it as expedite, and as ready about good things, as ever it was in any evil things.

Memory is Not Put to Practice.

In the third place, the memory is naturally unsanctified in this particular, that wherein it can or doth remember, there it produceth not suitable operations, nor doth it obtain its end. The end of remembering what is good is to love it, to practice it, and to imitate it. The end of remembering evil is to loath it bitterly, to repent of it, and to fly from it. Now herein our memory is grossly polluted, that it never obtaineth this blessed and holy end. If our memory be not effectual and operative to make us more holy and heavenly, it is a sinful and defiled memory. And for this reason it is that wicked men are said to forget God, because though they do remember him, yet they do not perform those duties to which their memory should be subservient. For as the end of knowledge is action, so the end of memory also is to be doing. As it is said, “If ye know these things, happy are ye, if ye do them” (John 13:17), so when ye remember these things, it’s a blessed thing to put them in practice. But how often do we see by experience, that where the memory is naturally very good, there morally it is very bad and sinful? Do you not meet with many that can remember the Scripture, remember sermons, yet never remember the practice of them? Whereas God hath given us memory for the same end he hath given us a knowledge, which is to direct and help us in our operations.

That as in beasts, they have a sensitive memory in them to preserve their natural being. The ox remembereth his master’s crib; the bird remembereth her seasons, and all this for natural preservation; The bee remembereth the place of her hive; The ant her nest, (though some Philosophers say, because of the great siccity of the constitution of those creatures, attribute it to a natural instinct, rather than memory). So this should be much more true in men. Therefore doth God bestow on us an intellectual memory, that thereby man might spiritually preserve himself, making use of that which is advantageous to his soul, and avoiding all that which is destructive.

As then we are not to know only that we may know, or to know thereby, making ostentation that others may take notice of it; so neither are we to remember, that we may remember only, or to brag of our memory, that others may wonder to see what a strong and retentive memory we have, but that thereby we may be more promoted and advanced in heavenly things. Let all such tremble under this consideration, who have very quick and sure memories about the Scripture and the sermons they hear, yet are very ungodly in their lives, and walk in a contrary way to all that they do remember. This argueth thy memory is not a sanctified memory, that it carrieth not on the work of grace in thee for which end only it ought to be employed.

It is observed that two sorts of men need a good memory. First, the liar, Oportet mendacem esse memorem, now every professing Christian living wickedly, is a liar, for with words he acknowledgeth him, but in works he denieth him, insomuch that thou who liest thus to God, shouldst remember thy professions and obligations. The second sort is of greatest accountants, such who have great sums to cast up and to be accountable for, these also had need of great memories. And such is every man. Oh the vast and numberless particulars of which he is one day to give an account to God! Oh what a proficient in holiness might thou have been if all the good things thou rememberest were in a practical manner improved, if thou couldst give a good account to God of thy memory, for that you are to do, as well as of the improvement of other parts of the soul! As God at the Day of Judgment will have an account of every talent he hath given thee, of thy understanding, of thy will, how these have been employed, so likewise of thy memory. What is that good, that holiness, thy memory hath put thee upon?

And this also you who are young ones and servants, living in godly families, are diligently to attend to, for you think this is enough, if you can remember a sermon, or catechetical heads, so as to give an account to your governors. If you can satisfy them you think this is enough, but thou art greatly deceived, for therefore art thou to remember that thou mayst do accordingly. Thou art never to forget this or that truth, that so it may be ready at hand to direct thee in all thy ways: and this is indeed a divine act of memory. There are those who teach the art of memory, and give rules to perfect a man therein, but divine and holy operation is the end of the Christian art of our memory.

Memory is Made Subservient to the Corruption of Our Hearts.

Fourthly, the pollution of our memory is seen in that it is made subservient to the corrupt frame and inclination of our hearts. We remember what our hearts are set upon, what our affections are earnest for, whereas our memory should precede and go before them. The intellective memory is the same with the mind and understanding of a man, for although to remember be not properly an act of knowledge, yet this intellective memory we make the same with the mind of a man, as it extends to things that are past. The memory then is to make way for the heart and the affections, to be directive to them, whereas now for the most part it is made a slave to the corrupt heart. For if the understanding in all its hegemonic and primary actions hath lost its power, how much more is this true in the memory? For the most part therefore the badness of the heart makes a bad memory, and a good heart a good memory.

Men complain they cannot remember when indeed they will not remember. Their hearts are so possessed and enslaved to earthly things, that they remember nothing but what tendeth thereunto. This is the ground of that saying, Omnia quae curant senes meminerunt, Old men remember all things their hearts are set upon, all things they do earnestly regard. They can remember their bonds, the place where their money lieth, because their hearts are fixed upon these things, but no holy or good things can lodge in their memories. The rule is, Frigus est mater obiivionis, Coldness is the mother of oblivion, as is partly seen in old men. And thus it is even in old and young, their hearts are cold, earthly, lumpish, even like stones about holy things, and therefore it is no wonder if they remember them no better. So that we may generally conclude that the cause of all thy blockishness and forgetfulness about divine things is thy sinful and corrupt heart, if that were better thy memory would be better.

We have a notable place, “Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? yet my people have forgotten me days without number” (Jer: 2:32). Can a bride forget her attire and ornament? It is impossible, because her delight and affections are upon it, but (saith God) my people have forgotten me, days without number. Why so? Because I am not that to them which ornaments are to a bride (saith God), if they delight in me, rejoice in me, if they did account me their glory, then they would never forget me. By this you see that therefore we forget God and his ways, because our hearts are not in love with him. Can he that is powerfully conquered by love of a friend forget his friend? Doth he not always remember him? Is not a friend alter ego? Is not the lover’s soul more where it loveth than where it animateth? Thus it would be also with us in reference unto God. Therefore we have bad memories, because bad hearts.

It is true, some natural causes may either deprive us wholly of, or greatly enervate the memory. Thus Messalla that famous orator, judged to be more elaborate than Tully, two years before his death forgot all things, even his own name. Hermogenes also that famous Rhetorician, who wrote those rhetorical institutions which are read with admiration of all, and this he did when he was but eighteen years old, and some six years after grew merely stupid and senseless, without any evident cause of whom it was said, that he was Inter pueros senex, & inter senes puer. Thucydides (as Vostius reporteth, Orat. institut. lib. 6.) speaketh of such an horrible pestilence, that those who did recover of it grew so forgetful they did not know their friends, neither remembered what kind of life or profession they once followed. Natural causes may much weaken the memory, but if we speak in a moral sense, then nothing doth so much corrupt the memory about holy things as a sinful and polluted heart.

The Memory Not is Subject to the Will.

Fifthly, the pollution of the memory is seen in that it is not now subject in the exercise of it to our will and power. We cannot remember when we would, and when it doth most concern us. Whereas in the state of integrity, Adam had such an universal dominion over all the powers of his soul, that they acted at what time and in what measure he pleased. Thus his affections were subject to him in respect of their rise, progress, and degree, and so for his memory, he had all things in his mind as he would.

Some indeed question whether Adam did then intelligere per phantasmata [understand by mental images]? But that seemeth inseparable from the nature of man while upon the earth and living an animal life, though without sin. No doubt his soul, being the form of the whole man, did act dependently upon the instrumentality of the body, though such was the admirable constitution of his body that nothing could make the operations thereof irregular.

Adam then had nothing which could either physically or morally hinder the memory, but all was under his voluntary command. Whereas such an impotency is upon us, that if we would give a world, we cannot remember the things we would. Hence we are forced to compel ourselves, by one thing after another, to bring to our minds what is forgotten. For in remembering there is some dependence of one thing upon another. As rings, if tied together, are more easily taken hold of than when they lie singly and loosely. And this Augustine (lib. 10. confes.) maketh to be the etymology of the word Cogito, Cogito à cogo, as Agito ab ago, Factito à facio, as if to cogitate were to force and compel things into our minds.

Let us then mourn and humble ourselves under this great pollution of nature, that those things which are of such infinite consequence, which are as much as our salvation and eternal happiness are worth, yet we do not, we cannot remember.

Sinful Thoughts Enter Our Minds Against Our Will.

Hence in the sixth place, the memory being not under our command, it falleth out that things come into our minds when we would not have them. Yea, when it is a sin to receive them. How often in holy duties, in religious performances, do we remember things which happily we could not do when the fit season and opportunity was for them? Do not many worldly businesses come into our minds, when we are in heavenly approaches to God, as Job 1 when the sons of God came and appeared before God, then Satan came also and stood with them? Thus, when thou art busy to remember all those Scriptural arguments which should humble thee in God’s presence, which should exalt and lift up thy soul to God, how many heterogeneous and distracting thoughts do crowd in also, so that this worldly business, and that earthly employment cometh into thy remembrance?

Though their memories are sanctified, and so cleansed in much measure from original filth in the dominion of it, yet do the people of God much groan under this important and unseasonable remembering of things. For hereby our duties have not that united force and power as they should have, neither is God so glorified in our addresses to him as he ought to be. Psalm 86:11, David there prayeth that God would unite his heart to fear his Name. The Apostle doth therefore speak so warily and tenderly in the case of marriage, that they might “serve the Lord without distraction” (1 Cor. 7). And no doubt dividing and diverting thoughts are as troublesome to the godly heart in holy duties as the croaking frogs were to Pharaoh, when they came up into his chamber.

Say then with indignation to all those intruding and violent thoughts, which make thee not hoc agere, instant in the duty thou art about, “stand aloof off, and be gone.” Bolt the door upon them, as Ammon on Thamar. What doth Saul among the prophets? How cometh these unclean things into the holiest of holies? Let the fear of God be like the porter or watchman to keep out all things that would then come into thy memory. When thy heart minds only one thing, when it is God only thy soul is fixed upon, and thou art not diverted otherwise, such duties are effectual and prevail much.

Thus you have at large heard the many ways, wherein this noble and useful part of the soul is grossly polluted, what a Sepulcher it is, wherein are contained nothing but loathsome and abominable things. Come we then to make some use of it.

Use 1. Give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard.

Is the memory thus defiled about holy and divine objects? Is it so forgetful of what is good? Then we see it is no matter of wonder if most people who sit under the continual means of grace do abide and continue in their wicked ways, as much as if never any prophet had been amongst them. For they go away from all sermons remembering no more than stones in the wall. They are the Apostles forgetful hearers (James 1), and so presently let all things slip out of their minds. Thus forgetfulness (of which you hear so much) is the mother of all that disobedience and wickedness many live in.

The Apostle giveth a good exhortation, “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” (Heb 2:1). We must give earnest heed: All your thoughts, and care, and study should be how to keep the good truths of God in your mind, and that always, lest that everything thou hearest should fasten upon thee, even till thou comest to the grave. The Greek word also is emphatic. The margin maketh it from vessels that leak. Others from wet and bleached paper, upon which we cannot write anything. Let us then look to our memories more than we have done, pray for the sanctification of them, seeing by the evil thereof the ministry is made ineffectual.

And because the memory is thus weak, we see the necessity and usefulness of a twofold custom, of writing of sermons, and of repeating them afterward in the family. Of writing (for whatsoever some pretend to the contrary, yet) it is a special means to make a thing be more fixed in our memory. And this was the reason why God would have the King of Israel write the book of the Law, and that with his own hand, because hereby he would remember it more tenaciously (Deut. 17:18). And as for repeating of sermons (besides that it is part of the sanctification of the Sabbath) it doth greatly help to make the Word engraffed into us. Those families where there is no repeating of the Word preached do plainly discover that they regard not the retaining of it in their hearts, and so are not afraid to be found in the number of forgetful hearers.

Use 2. Parental Duties.

If the memory be thus defiled, then this also sheweth the necessity of parents’ duty in the constant instruction and teaching of their children in the principles of religion. Children have not understanding to serve God with, and therefore their memory, which is easily quickened in them, must be the more drawn out so they may serve God as they are able. It’s good seasoning these vessels betimes with wholesome liquor.


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