Promises to Keep

Luke 10:25-37

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."

The words of this poem belong to Robert Frost.
Some years ago, Frost quoted the line as he was speaking to an university audience.
Afterwards, a man asked the poet what he meant by "promises to keep."

And Frost said that he had promises to keep to those who had gone on before.
Meaning his ancestors and his predecessors.
And also to those of his own day, his contemporaries.
And to those who would follow his successes.
And to himself; and to God.

You may feel that Frost had quite a list of promises to keep.
However, the truth is that every person has these promises to keep.
Robert Frost was neither the first nor the last to realize that life itself means obligations.

Jesus said, "To him that much is given much shall be required."
Jesus also said, "Go and do thou likewise."
And He said, "Go ye into all the world."

Paul said, "I am debtor."
Paul also said, "You are not your own…"

Jesus reminds us that "He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."
And Jesus also said, "If God so loved us, we ought to love one another."

So you see that all of life's imperatives are grounded in indicatives.
Remember as you study grammar that you found that an indicative is a factual something.
It is real – it is positive; and it is interested in the way things are.
Someone has said, that an indicative is like a jack-in-the-box springing out all kinds of imperatives
such as commands, exhortations, directives, imperatives.
These cannot be postponed or denied.

So, God has done this, and we do that.
Life is like this and we act thus.

You are strong; serve the weak.
You are well; serve the sick.
You have love; bestow it on the lonely.
You have music; sing your song.
You have wealth; use it for the needy.
You have knowledge; impart it to the ignorant.

"The words are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
And miles to go before I sleep."

The "woods" of pleasure, ease, satisfaction, indifference, and selfishness "are lovely, dark and deep,"
but their promises are to the past, the present, the future, to God, and to self.
And there are "miles to go before we sleep."

Life is filled with purpose, and we fit into that purpose.
We have work to do, obligations to fulfill, and we cannot go until the appointed work is done.

We have promises to keep to those who have gone before.

How can anyone of us repay 1/10 of 1% of the social, intellectual, cultural, or spiritual benefits
which we owe to past generations.
There are great thinkers who have fed our minds and filled our libraries.
There are reformers who have fought our battles and stacked the essentials of liberty with the fire of freedom.
There are saints, prophets, and martyrs whose words have caused men to stand up for Christ,
and whose lives have lit the trail to God, and whose deaths have been used to start thousands of churches.

A pastor and his wife visited a typical mountaineer.
He was cantankerous, reserved, and hospitable.
His name was William Morris.
He lived in an isolated cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina.
Morris invited the pastor and his wife to come and sit with him before an open fire.
And it was nice, but there was something special about that fire.

That fire had been started more than 150 years before, and it never been allowed to go out.
In 1790 the great grandfather of William Morris came to those mountains from Pennsylvania with his bride.
With his own hands he built the cabin.
Then he and his bride went across the mountain to their nearest neighbor and borrowed fire.
The fire up was kept going for a week, a month, and a year.
They realized that they had not needed to borrow fire again.

Keeping the fire from going out became an imperative to them, so they kept it going for 10, 20, 25 years.
They told her children about it, and the children kept the fire burning, and told their children about it.
Now after more than 150 years, this pastor and his wife were sitting before a fire that had been tended so well.

The pastor asked, "Mr. Morris, tell me how you feel about this fire."
"Well, son," he answered, "after my chores are done in the evening, I come in with my dog, Bob."
The bachelor had lived alone except for his dog.
Then he continued, "I stir up the fire, put on fresh wood, and gaze into the flame.
Then I seem to see the faces of my father and mother, my grandfather and grandmother,
my great-grandfather, and my great-grandmother
."

Then there was a bit of a quiver in his voice as he said, "I'm going to keep that fire going as long as I live!"

So you see, Mr. Morris had a promise to keep up with those who had gone before,
and he had kept that promise, and would keep it as long as he lived.

There are so many which we have promises to keep.
We have debts, obligations, and promises.

There are parents who have given us life and love, and sacrificed for our welfare and development,
and for our education and our opportunities, and who wept over our weaknesses and our sins,
and rejoiced over our successes and victories.
Mothers and fathers have sacrificed so their children could have a better tomorrow.
To them we have promises to keep.

There are teachers that disciplined our minds, and taught our hearts to love truth as far as it is possible
for us to do today, and to prepared us for the work of our lives.
To them we have promises to keep.

Think of this country – this blessed land of ours!
It is a land that, with all her faults and failures, stands head and shoulders above the nations of the world
in the freedom and opportunity that she gives to her youth and that she offers to all her people.
To this land of ours, we have promises to keep.

Think about the churches that nourish our spirits, and has led us to the Saviour of life – churches
that teach us that "life does not consist in the abundance of things."
Churches that are always ready to extend a helping hand to us in the great needs of our lives.
We have promises to keep to our churches.

And we have promises to keep to our parents who loaned us to the Lord just as surely
as Hannah loaned little Samuel.
It was from them that we first learned of the great promises of God contained
in this wonderful book called the Bible.
It was with them that we learn to saying and love the great hymns, and walked the aisle
giving the preacher our hands and giving God our hearts.

It was through them that we found friends during our childhood, and during our tender teens,
and during our learning twenties, and our tireless thirties.
It was through their influence that we dedicated our children even before they were conceived.
We have promises to keep to our parents.

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."

Now I ask you to lift your eyes to the future.
Surely we have observed that the present life is largely made up of the past of memory and anticipation.
Even while we sit here, we are facing tomorrow.

Ask one of our veterans who served in our armed forces while they went into combat and bled for us.
The chances are that his answer will be in terms of a better tomorrow – not just for himself,
but for his children and the children of others.
To them we have promises to keep.

George Bernard Shaw once said, "A gentleman was a man who would not take out of life
more than he put into it
."

I read the story of a man past 80 years of age who planted a small peach tree.
His neighbor saw him planning that tree, and he asked him,
"Do you expect to eat peaches from that small tree?"

The old man straightened up, leaned against a shovel, drew a few heavy breaths and said,
"All my life I have enjoyed peaches, but never from a tree I planted myself.
I would not have had peaches if other men had not done what I am doing now.
I'm trying to help furnish peaches to somebody in the future
."

Now I need to ask myself, and you need to ask yourself,
"What would you do about your promises to tomorrow?"

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."

We have promises to God that we need to keep.

Every other promise that is worthy finds its origin, motive, and purpose in God.
The psalmist cried, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned."

There are certain areas where we so plainly are obligated to God that it is well to point them out.
In the realm of creation that is certainly true.
Man was created in God's image.
Man was created capable of having fellowship with God, and without God there is no life.

God loved us into existence.
And ever since He loved us into existence, He has been preserving us, providing for us,
giving us that which is beautiful to the eye, delectable to the taste, satisfying to the smell,
pleasant to the touch, and comforting to the heart.
These are "God's extras."

When we carefully consider this, we may conclude that most of the ugly, distasteful, unpleasant,
and disagreeable things are man-made.
God wants us to be happy and to enjoy the lovely and pleasant things of life.
It is a distorted and evil philosophy that teaches that God is displeased when we enjoy
and appreciate the bounty that God has placed on the table of life.
God wants us to enjoy fully, and not to abuse evilly.

We have promises to keep to God because of the redemption that God has provided to us
at a terrible cost to Himself.

Years ago, a man stood outside an operating room in a small town.
He and his pastor watched through a small glass window where dedicated doctors
and surgeons sure of themselves and alert as to what they were doing.
He would look and walk away, come back, mop his brow and groan, walk away and come back.
Then he placed his heavy hand on the shoulder of the pastor and said:
"Preacher, never again shall I say that a doctor charges too much for an operation."

How many times in our life have we said, "God, if you will just forgive me, and get me out of this mess,
I will serve you with all my heart and life… if you would just heal me
…"
Or we have said, " Lord, I'll never forget You, and I will live for You every day of my life." And

Again and again, life and the Bible and the Holy Spirit have reminded us of the promises
that we have made to God.
And we have felt that the promises involved called for a great sacrifice.

"Never again shall I say that a doctor charges too much for an operation."
Now look through the window of God's love and see the "operation" on Calvary again.
Catch a glimpse of what transpired there, and you will understand that the promises
we made were promises that we must keep.

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
And miles to go before I sleep."

We are in debt to our great God.
To be a Christian means to be under obligation.
We must remember that "ye are not your own. Ye are bought with a price."

Sermon adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White