January 25, 2024

Remembering the Covenant

Sinclair Ferguson
Remembering the Covenant

Every time we come to the Lord’s Table, Jesus reminds us of His covenant love and the cost of our redemption. Today, Sinclair Ferguson considers how the Lord helps His forgetful people remember the covenant of grace.


We’ve been thinking all week about the importance of remembering in the Christian life. Years ago, we carpooled one of our sons with another family, and I was driving our son and their daughter home on the very last day of class. And the little girl was expressing pretty considerable anxiety about how difficult their next year at school was going to be. And to my complete astonishment, my young son turned to her and said, “There’s nothing to worry about next year because it’s all a matter of revision.”

I don’t think he knew then at the age of eight or nine or whatever he was that he was embracing a rather well-known and particular point of view of a philosophical school. Because some philosophers have held the view, on the one hand, that the human mind at birth is a tabula rasa. It’s a totally blank slate, like an empty computer disc that needs programmed and populated with information. But other philosophers, and some neuroscientists as well, have held the view that the human brain, the human mind, at least to some extent, comes pre-programmed, already hardwired. Otherwise, how can you explain that human beings everywhere with very different languages seem by and large to think in the same ways?

Well, no matter whether the empiricists or the innatists, as they’re called, are right, one thing is for sure. None of us is born with the Bible already in our memory banks. We need to put it there. We need to program our memories with the truth of Scripture, and as we know from God’s Word, this is how our lives are transformed. The way in which the transformation takes place is by the renewal of the mind. And the renewal of the mind takes place through the truth of Scripture, so we need to hide God’s Word in our hearts.

I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this, but it’s not only true of us that we don’t come pre-programmed with the Bible in our minds. It was true of the Lord Jesus. In His humanity, He had to program His mind with the truth of Scripture. And He must have known from early days that this, in fact, was prophesied of Him in those lovely Servant Songs that we find in the second half of the prophecy of Isaiah. Here are some words that Isaiah puts into the mouth of our Lord Jesus: “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary” (Isa. 50:4). Isn’t that a beautiful description of Jesus, the meek and the lowly, sustaining those who are weary?

Now, how did that come about? Well, listen to how the passage goes on. This is Isaiah 50, incidentally, verse 4: “Morning by morning, the Lord awakens. He awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.” And if that was true of the Lord Jesus in His perfect humanity, how much more true it needs to be of us as we battle against our inward temptations, as we battle against our native sin, as we seek to live for God’s glory. We need to hide the Word of God in our hearts.

We’ve been talking about some of the things that we forget and some of the things that are never to be forgotten. Here’s another of them from Deuteronomy chapter 4 and verse 23: “Take care, says the Lord, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God” (Deut. 4:23). And the word “Lord” there, as you may know, is Yahweh, the covenant name of God. So that was a very important command that the Lord was giving to them: “Take care lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God.”

You know, there’s a remarkable passage later on in 2 Kings 17 where the author interjects his own voice into the story to remind his readers just how important these words were for God’s people. But then he adds—you can almost imagine with a slight shake of the head—“However, they would not listen” (2 Kings 17:40). They didn’t take care. They forgot the covenant of the Lord their God, and spiritual disaster followed.

I wonder when you last remembered the covenant of the Lord or even last thought about it. I think your answer will probably tell you a good deal about how much or how little the Lord’s covenant means to you. But here’s something wonderful: the Lord not only urges us in Scripture to remember His covenant, He helps us to remember it. Every time we come to the Lord’s Table, what’s happening? Through the bread and the wine, the Lord Jesus is whispering to us, “Remember the covenant in My blood.” And what we see in the bread and in the wine stimulates our memories, and we remember Christ’s death until He comes. The bread is placed in our hands, the cup on our lips, and we are given these remembrances by Jesus of His covenant love for us.

We are so much more privileged than those old covenant saints who were told to remember the Lord’s covenant. He knows how forgetful we are, and He helps us. And it is, I think, one of the most wonderful things in the world therefore for us, to remember that He is a covenant-making and covenant-keeping God, and that the covenant He has kept has been the most difficult covenant to keep that there ever was in human history because it cost Him His Son. He has remembered His covenant, and we should remember it too.