It is a good thing to always look forward. Even nature itself shows that people’s eyes were designed to always look forward; for no one has eyes in the back of their head, as they certainly would have, if it had been intended that they should spend much time in looking backward. We like to have Bible authority for our rules in life; and there is a very plain word of Scripture which says, “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you!” (Proverbs 4:25)
There is also a striking Scriptural illustration in the greatest of the Apostles, who crystalized the central principle of his active life in these remarkable words: “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are ahead, I press toward the mark.” The picture is of a man running in a race. He sees only one thing – the goal ahead. He does not trouble himself to look back to see how far he has come, or how far the other runners are behind him; he does not even look to the right hand or to the left, to catch glimpses of his friends who are watching him and cheering him on. His eyes look right on to the goal, while he bends every energy to the race.
That is the picture which Paul drew of himself as a man, as a Christian; he forgot his past, and lived only for his future. We must remember, too, that he was in his old age when he wrote these words. Looking at him, we would say there was very little before him now to live for, since there was only a little margin of life left to him. The young naturally look forward, because everything is before them – the long, bright future years seem to stretch out for them almost inimitably; they live entirely in hope, and they do not yet have any memories to draw their eyes and their hearts backward, and to chain their lives to the past. But elderly people – who have spent most of their allotted years, and have only a small and fast-crumbling edge of life remaining – are very prone to live almost entirely in the past. The richest treasures of their hearts are there, left behind and passed by; and so their eyes and their thoughts are drawn backward, rather than forward.
Here, however, was one aged man who cared nothing for what was past, and who lived entirely in hope – pressing on with quenchless enthusiasm into the future. What was gone was nothing to him, in comparison with what was yet to come. The best things in his life were still to be won; his noblest achievements were yet to be done; his soul was still full of unrealized visions which were yet be realized. His eye pierced death’s veil – for to him, life meant immortality; and earth’s horizon was not its boundary.
In the last glimpse that we have of the aged Apostle, he is going forth from his Roman dungeon to martyrdom – but he is still reaching forth and pressing on! His keen eye was fixed on a glory which other men could not see, as he cried with exultation, “The time of my departure is at hand… Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown!”
There is something very sublime in such a life, and it ought to have its inspirations for us. We ought to train ourselves to live by the same rule. There is a tremendous waste in human energy and in all life’s powers, resulting from the habit of always turning to look backward. While we stand thus, with arms folded, peering back into the mists and the shadows of the dead past; the great, resistless, never-resting tides of life are sweeping on, and we are simply left behind. And few things are sadder than to see people with their powers still at their best; but they are left behind in the race, and left alone, because they stop and stand and look backward, instead of keeping their eyes to the front and bravely pressing on to the things ahead!
It is in every way better to look forward than to look back. The life follows the eye; we live as we look. But what is there behind us to live for? There is no work to do; no tasks wait there for accomplishment; no opportunities for helpfulness or usefulness lie in the past. Opportunities, when they have once passed by, never linger; once they are passed, they are gone forever!
We cannot impress ourselves in any way upon the past; the records which are written all over the pages of yesterday were made when yesterday was the living present. We cannot make any change on the past; we can undo nothing there, correct nothing, and erase nothing.
The ideal life is one that does its best every day, and always sees tomorrow as an opportunity for something better than today. It is sad when anyone has to look back for his best achievements and his highest attainments. However lofty the plane may be that has been reached, the face should still be turned forward, and the heart should still be reaching onward for its best.
The true life may be pictured by a tree which drops its ripe fruits in the autumn and forgets them, leaving them to be food for the hungry, while it straightway begins to prepare for another year’s fruits. What an abnormal thing it would be for an apple tree to bear one abundant crop, and then never again produce anything each year except a few scattered apples hanging lonesome on the wide-spreading branches – and all the while, the tree continued to glory year after year in its superb yield of long ago!
Is such a life any more fitting for an immortal man than for a soulless fruit tree? Immortality should never content itself with anything past. Not back, but forward, should always be the direction in which our eyes should be bent. The years should be ladder-steps upward, each one lifting us higher. Even death should not intercept the onward look; for surely the best things are never on this side, but always on beyond death’s mists. Death is not a wall cutting off the path and ending all progress; it is a gate – an open gate – through which the life sweeps on through eternity! Progress, therefore, is endless; and the goal is always unreached!
Even the mistakes and the sins of the past should not draw our eyes back. Sins should instantly be confessed, repented of, and forsaken – and that should be the end of them! To brood over them does no good; we can never undo them, and no tears can obliterate the fact of their commission. The way to show true sorrow for wrongdoing, is not to sit in sackcloth and ashes weeping over the ruin wrought; but rather, it is to pour all the energy of our regret into new obedience and better service! We cannot change the past, but as for the future – we can still make it beautiful! It would be sad if, in weeping over the sins of yesterday, we should lose today also! Not an instant, therefore, should be wasted in unavailing regret when we have failed. The only thing to do with mistakes is to not repeat them, while – at the same time – we strive to get some gain or blessing from them.
Defeats in life should never detain us long, since only faith and courage are needed to change them into real victories. For after all, it is character that we are building in this world. And if we use every experience to promote our growth, and to make us better; and if we emerge from it stronger, braver, truer, and nobler – then we have lost nothing, but have been the gainer! In reverses and misfortunes, then, we only have to keep our eyes fixed on Christ – caring only that no harm comes to our soul from the loss or the trial – and thus we shall be victorious! If we stop and look back with a despairing heart at the wreck of our hopes and plans, our defeat will be real and humiliating. Like Lot’s wife, we shall be buried beneath the encrusting salt. But if we resolutely turn away from the failure or the ruin, and press on to brighter things that cannot perish – then we shall win victory and blessedness and eternal gain!
Look forward – not backward! Live to make tomorrow beautiful, and not to stain yesterday with tears of regret and grief.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on this article! Feel free to leave your reflections and ask your questions below.
God bless you and your family, this day and always.
All for our King’s glory,
photo by Prixel Creative | Lightstock.com
This post is another installment of Miller’s Monday Musings, a weekly series that is published every Monday on my website. The series features selected writings that have been adapted from the works of James Russell Miller (1840-1912), a much-beloved Christian author and pastor who is well-remembered for his practical thoughts on Christian home and family life. Learn more about this weekly series by clicking here.