When God Promised To Never Forsake You
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.
Towards the end of his life David Livingstone, the great missionary, was brought back to his native Scotland to be honored by his countrymen and the University of Glasgow in particular. There was absolute silence as Livingstone told of his experiences in Africa, his left arm hanging limp at his side, the result of being mauled by a lion. He spoke of being felled by fever 30 times. He told of the various hardships he had gladly endured for the cause of Christ.
Quoting the missionary-explorer, “But I return without misgivings and with great gladness. For would you like me to tell you what supported me through all the years of exile among people whose language I could not understand, and whose attitude towards me was always uncertain and often hostile? It was this: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!” On those words I staked everything and they never failed me! It is the word of a gentleman of the most strict and sacred honour, so there’s an end to it.”
There is a sequel to his comments that make what he said even more meaningful. Livingstone did return but eventually, however, his frail body failed. His native co-laborers found him slumped over the cot where the previous night he had knelt to pray. His well-worn New Testament was open to the same passage he had quoted to the university audience—Matthew 28:20, and in the margin beside the text, in his own hand was this notation: “The words of a gentleman.”
That phrase “the words of a gentleman” means little to us in the context of the 21st century, but in his day when a gentleman gave his word, it was his honor at stake. The words of Jesus in Matthew 28:20 were Livingstone’s life verse—one he literally staked his future and well being upon.
Several questions bring into focus what Jesus said long ago. To whom was this said? Under what circumstances? And can we count upon this promise today? The answer is simple: Jesus spoke these words to the disciples following His resurrection. He was about to return to His father’s home in heaven. He begins by saying, And, lo, I am with you always….” The force of the word translated “lo” or “surely” is this: “Listen carefully,” or “pay attention to this—it’s very important.” Then he promised, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
“Always?” you might ask, questioning that fact today. Literally the text says, “all [your] days.” Personally I like that better than the term “always.” Why? Life comes to us just one day at a time. Some are good days, some not so good. Some are filled with hardship, some with suffering, a few with leisure. But life comes in 24 hour segments, and from one day to the next, you are uncertain what another day will bring–news of tragedy, heartache, surprise, joy, and perhaps gladness. He promised, however, to be there every day, no matter what happens.
Is that valid today, say in the 21st century? Another New Testament book, Hebrews 13, reasserts the promise of Jesus, saying, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). And the text means, “Not even for a moment.” So you can believe the promise that meant so much to David Livingstone.