For someone to say to us, “But I will remember you,” conveys that we are held in the heart of love in that person. What a wonderful thing it is for a mother to say when a daughter is going forth onto the sea of life and is going to confront many difficulties and trials, “But I will remember you in my prayers.” What a wonderful thing for a boy or young man who must go, perhaps, to war or to the service to hear a believing father say, “But I will remember you at the throne of God.”
Surpassing all of that is the wonderful and glorious truth that the eternal God, our heavenly Father, remembers us – that we are graven upon the palms of His hands, that He never forgets, and that all of His dealings with us are out of mercy and faithful loving kindness.
We read in Psalm 136:23, “Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endureth for ever.” The 136th Psalm stands out in the Psalms for the chorus repeated in every verse, “for his mercy endureth for ever.” It was a song of praise for God’s enduring mercy. And that chorus, “for his mercy endureth for ever,” was a favorite one of the Old Testament saints. They would sing it especially in moments of the display of God’s great goodness or saving power.
It was introduced first by David when he had, at last, carried the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. Then we read in I Chronicles 16:34 that David said, “O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.” It was repeated by Solomon at the occasion of the dedication of the Temple. We read that when the glory of the Lord filled the Temple and the people fell with their faces upon the pavement, then Solomon led them in a chorus of praise, “The Lord is good, for His mercy endureth for ever.” Then again we read of Jehoshaphat in II Chronicles 20:21, when he would lead Judah out against the overwhelming hordes of the children of the East, the children of Ammon and Moab who had come up from the valley of Tekoa and were threatening Jerusalem. As he leads forth the children of Judah against them, Jehoshaphat appointed singers who should praise the beauty of holiness and say, “Praise the LORD; for his mercy endureth for ever.”
What thanks! What praise! What holy wonder! What comfort dwells in our hearts when we meditate upon the enduring mercy of God. God’s mercy. That He pities us in our misery and is determined to do good to us. That that mercy endures for ever, that there is no ceasing, no ebb or flow, no regression. But from eternity to eternity His mercy remains constant and sure. Nothing can ever remove that mercy of God from us.
In Psalm 136 we praise God for God’s never-failing mercy. And we praise God as the God who remembers His people in their low estate and does so because His mercy endures for ever.
“Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endureth for ever.”
Do you sense something of the wonder of those words: “Who remembered us in our low estate”? That God remembers us does not mean that there is in God a lapse of memory, that He forgets and needs to recall something to mind as we do. Such is never the case with God. His knowledge is full and constant. We read in Acts 15:18, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” Isaiah 49:16, “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.” Then again in Jeremiah 29:11, Jeremiah is speaking to a people who, after seventy years of being captive in Babylon, were tempted to despair and to conclude that God was done with them, that God had forgotten all about them. There the prophet speaks these words of God, in God’s behalf: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”
The meaning must be sought in an entirely different vein. It does not mean that God has a lapse of memory, forgetfulness, or that He needs to bring back to His divine consciousness certain things. But that the Lord remembers us tells us of God’s previous thought of love and mercy towards us that He had eternally. And now He will act towards us based upon those thoughts. We read in Ephesians 1:4, “According as he (God) hath chosen us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world.” Before the world was created, before time was, God chose us. That now God remembers us means that those eternal thoughts of love and of grace, those eternal thoughts of election which He had within Himself from all eternity, now become the reason for His coming to our aid in time. He stirs Himself up when He sees us in our low estate. For He remembers us, He knows that He has in Himself thoughts of grace and love towards us. He remembers us. Oh, the wonder of that!
It is a wonder, first of all, because it is so contrary and so opposite to what we are. There is a stark contrast here to our forgetting Him. Our memory bears the marks of our depravity. That does not mean that we cannot remember. Our minds are able to retain what is worthless. The pictures on the TV, the lewd words and pictures, the cursings, the swearings, the put-downs. These are etched deeply into our memories. The looks, the offenses that we either have received or imagined from others – oh, we never forget them. But God? His boundless mercy? We forget that! That is why the apostle Peter says in II Peter 1 that he feels it needful, as long as he is upon this earth, to call to remembrance the things of the promises of God. God’s past goodness and faithfulness? We forget that. We say, “Where is He?” We become mindless. That is our greatest sin. Yet He remembers us. He never removes, for one moment, His thoughts from us. They are constant and uninterrupted.
Secondly, the wonder is this, that it is something the opposite to what we deserved. He remembered us in our low estate, says the psalmist. The reference there in Psalm 136, if you would read the Psalm, is to the children of Israel who were toiling in Egypt, sweating before the furnace to make bricks, their backs laid open to the lashes of their masters, oppressed by a godless and heartless king. Then, later on, wandering in a desert waste for forty years, hated by the Canaanites, the offscouring of all the earth, friendless, with none to pity them. Yet God remembered them in their low estate. Exodus 2:24, 25, “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them.”
He remembered us in our low estate, that is, when we were in that most wretched and forlorn estate, worthy to be for ever discarded, cast aside, none to pity us. He remembered us. The “us” here is the Israel of God, the church, the elect of Jesus Christ, called to faith. Galatians 6:16, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” The Israel of God is the church. In our low estate, He owned us, He remembered us. Fallen by nature, wretched, children of wrath, deserving wrath, sinners – in our low estate He saved us in Jesus Christ. He gave us faith whereby we know Him. And we – redeemed in Jesus Christ and converted, yet, according to our sins, wayward and proud and easily entrapped and ensnared in our sins. He remembers us as sheep gone astray. And He seeks us out in all of our low estate, our disappointments, our sorrows, our tears, our death. He remembers us as frail, weak, sinners.
Oh! The wonder of it. We who do not remember Him, we who, as Israel in the wilderness who came before Moses and said, “Where is He?” And we who, as Israel when Moses was sent as the deliverer to Egypt said to Moses, “Well, what is His name?” We who deserve to be discarded, to be remembered in God’s wrath and anger, wretched, of whom we would say, “It is best simply to forget them, to have nothing to do with them anymore.” That is what we would say. Yet He remembered us. Always, eternally, He set His affection upon us. And then He arises to act, to help us in our need.
Why? Why would God do that? Here is the answer: “for his mercy endureth for ever.”
The answer is completely gracious.
Let me explain.
Will you note with me, and will you lay it up in your heart and mind, that the reason God remembers us is to be found in God and not in us. He does not remember us in mercy because of anything we are, anything we have done, or could do. You cannot catch God’s eye. You cannot be the reason for His saving of you. You cannot be the cause for His mind to think kindly and graciously of you. It is not because of anything you are or could do. In Ezekiel 36 God puts it this way after He has reaffirmed that He will fulfill His promises to His people, His people who have been totally disobedient. He says to them, “Not for your sakes do I this, but for my own name’s sake.” The fountain, the spring, the source from which flows the salvation of your soul is found in one place: the eternal heart of God. “For his mercy endures for ever.” Get that into your heart. Spanning time, existing before the first moments when God called the world to be by the power of His voice, passing throughout all of time as ages replace ages, and generations roll on, and death and graves are dug, and kingdoms are built and then topple to ruins and become clay. His mercy endures for ever! And personally, in our own life, from childhood to adulthood, and as life’s swift day passes away even unto eternity when death delivers us to His presence, and when, at last, Jesus comes at the end of the world to make all things new, His mercy endures for ever!
It is the one, the only unchanging thing. It is the only sure thing. His mercy endures for ever! And it is His mercy that keeps Him mindful of us. He acts towards His people out of the thoughts of His eternal mercy. He would pity us. He desires in His heart to condescend to us. The word “mercy” always involves compassion. It involves a realizing of our low estate, of our misery, and a movement of divine compassion in God Himself towards us.
So, as a mother will remember her son when she hears the cry, even though she be far away; and as a wife will remember her husband long after death; and as love burns someone into your memory so that you wear that person upon your heart and mind and you carry him in your bosom; so God, out of His own love and mercy, remembers us. He has burned us into His heart with the power of His mercy. And He sees us in all the woe of our depravity, and He wills perfectly to bless us in His Son.
You see, all of this is real. The psalmist is not talking theoretically. He is not talking abstractly. He has seen all of this etched out in the history of God’s people, in the history of redemption. He looks back upon all the works of God, and he says, in verse 24, “And hath redeemed us from our enemies: for his mercy endureth for ever.” He looks upon redemption. That word “redemption” means to “buy back, to purchase, to ransom something by making a payment of paying the price.” God really remembered by actually paying a price for our redemption. God did not simply say, “Oh, there are those people upon whom I have mercy. And they are sunk down in their misery. Oh, how I love them,” and then stop at that. But He did something. He gave His Son a ransom for many in due time. So real is His remembrance that, at a given moment in time, God arose to set us free from our sins and to deliver us from our low estate. And that moment in time was not when Israel came out of Egypt. It was not in the wilderness. It was not when they stood before all the kings of the Canaanites. All of that was a wonderful truth and picture. But there was a moment in time when all of the guilt, weight, and horror of our sins were placed upon His Son and His Son paid the price and delivered us, cleansed us, and purified us. That moment was Calvary. There He remembered us. There mercy awoke. And there enduring mercy was poured out in time to save and to deliver us from our deepest woe.
Receiving that mercy, we have the pledge that He will remember us always. In our low estate of sorrow, in moments of struggle, loneliness, pain, and death we cry out, “Lord, remember me.” That was true even with the thief on the cross. Do you remember what his plea was? “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” And He, upon the basis of His own mercy, a mercy which He has shown now in the cross, He answers: “Son, daughter, thou art ever with Me. All that I have is thine. Son, daughter, verily I say unto thee, thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”
Oh Lord, remember me. And He says, “I will not, I have not, I cannot forget thee.”
Let us pray.
Our Father in heaven, we do thank Thee and praise Thee for Thy glorious Word. We do praise Thee for Thy enduring mercy, for Thy electing love, and for Thy grace. That Thou hast had pity upon us in our low estate, and that Thou hast redeemed us through Jesus Christ. And now, oh Lord, give us every moment of our life to walk in the light of this Word of God, in the light of the Word which says that Thou art the God who remembers us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.