Part 1: Steele on the Memory

Time Posted on September 09, 2010 User River La Belle

This is my formal introduction into the blogging industry, so I apologize if I did anything wrong. This post is the first of a three-part series about our memory. Most of what I've written here is adapted from a sermon preached by the Rev. Richard Steele (1629-1692). He belonged to an amazingly gifted group of theologians called the Puritans who lived in the seventeeth century. For those who are interested, the translations used are the KJV and the ESV.     


What Are the Hindrances and Helps to a Good Memory in Spiritual Things?


The excellence of the memory: The soul of man is a subject of wonder; and nothing is more wonderful in it than the memory –– that such innumerable images of things should be lodged in a finite faculty, and that what seems to be utterly lost in it, should be fully recovered; wherefore it is justly deemed by the learned a miraculous mercy. It has power to make things that are in themselves absent and past, to be present. By the help of memory, we retain what we have read in books, what we have heard in sermons or other discourses, as well as examples of God’s mercies and judgments for our encouragement and warning. All these, and ten thousand things more, are laid up in the memory, which is the soul’s treasury, so that the soul would be a poor soul without the memory. We may see the worth of this faculty by those that are deprived of the use of it, that can remember nobody, nor the last question that they asked. All a man’s past life would be lost, if his memory were lost. The souls would be poor in knowledge, poor in gifts, poor in comfort, without the memory. Especially this faculty was happy in its primitive state before the fall; for then its reception was easy, the impressions firm, the recovery (if any use of it) ready. Then it was like a clear crystal glass, wherein all that was contained in it was easily seen; now it is cracked and muddy: then it was like an iron chest; now it is like a bag with holes. It had the neighborhood of a clear understanding and of a holy will; and Adam could not but “remember his Creator in those days of his youth.”


It is necessary to labor to improve your memories, to have them cured and strengthened –– It is an unquestionable duty. That fundamental law, propounded in the Old Testament (Deut. 6:5) and confirmed in the New (Matt. 22:37) –– “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” –– obliges us to strain every faculty to the utmost in God’s behalf. One end of Christ’s coming into the world was to repair our depraved faculties; and shall we suffer him to die in vain? First Corinthians 15:2 says, “By which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you –– unless you believed in vain.” This shows how necessary it is to improve our memories, as a means of faith and salvation. We find by experience that this faculty is miserably corrupted: and therefore it is undoubtedly necessary that it be renewed.


Reduce into practice that which you remember.––The end of all true knowledge is practice: “Remember to do his commandments.” (Psalm 103:18). If it be a doctrinal truth which you read or hear, consider what influence it has upon the heart. If it be a duty which is set before you, immediately set about it. If a sin be exposed, presently root it out. If insincerity or hypocrisy be brought to light, examine your spiritual state without delay. For, as a treasure in the chest is in danger of the robber; but when it is used for a good purchase, here it is safe from being stolen: so too, while spiritual notions swim only in the memory, you may easily lose them; but they are safe when they are once incorporated into your real practice. But, alas! There are too many that are like those whiffling chapmen, who come to the shop and lay-by a great many rich wares; but when all is done, they buy few or none: so these cheapen and bid for the pearl, but will not buy it; they will talk over all the points of religion, before they will seriously practice any one of them. For you “remember the Sabbath” aright, when you so remember it before it comes, that when it comes, you “keep it holy.” (Exod. 20:8). You remember God truly, when you fear and love and trust in him. You remember your neighbor as you ought, when you remember “to do good, and to communicate.” (Heb. 13:16). You remember yourselves best, when you remember “to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.” (Acts 24:16). In a word: you remember your latter end rightly, when you keep your oil ready in your lamps and in your vessels, so that when your Master comes, he may find you so doing.


Steele follows the usual practice of the Puritans in his sermon ––delivering doctrine before application––so I will too. The next post will have more applicable points.

So what are the great benefits to be gained by improving your memories? Keep your eyes peeled. . . 

Cat Quotes
Tag memorization, memory

2 responses to Part 1: Steele on the Memory

Phil Walker

River, welcome to the memverse blog. What a great post you chose as your debut!! Sometimes, we get in such a mindset of always looking for the next, newest, biggest thing that we forget or ignore the wealth of wisdom and inspiration from the past. We can learn quite a bit from the puritans and I very much look forward to your future posts.

I love the emphasis of putting into practice what we are memorizing.

River La Belle

Thanks, Phil. That's very encouraging.