A Good Hope, Through Grace
Adapted From A Sermon By
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace.
2 Thessalonians 2:16
With George Burder again as our guide this morning we will consider one of God’s greatest gifts to believers: a Good hope through grace,
These words of verse 16 of 2 Thessalonians Chapter 2 are part of an affectionate prayer, offered up by the apostle of the Gentiles, in behalf of the Thessalonian Christians; and we may receive much help in praying for ourselves, from such passages as this; being assured that we cannot ask wrongly, if we ask in the words of the Holy Spirit himself. It is addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ, equally with God the Father; and so is one proof, among many others, of the divinity of our Savior, who could not otherwise hear or answer our prayers.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
Comfort and steadiness in religion are the blessings he prays for; and he takes encouragement in asking for them, from the love of God already manifested in the consolation and hope they had enjoyed—a good hope through grace. Which is the subject of our sermon this morning.
Among the various and precious blessings of the Gospel-salvation, this is one of the greatest.
The value and use of hope, in the conduct of human affairs in general, is well known; it is this that stimulates man to action, reconciles him to suffering, and proves the very support of life: but the good hope we are now treating of is as much superior to this as heaven is superior to earth, or eternity to time; it is a hope full of glory and immortality.
May the God of hope fill us with joy and peace in believing, and make our time this morning the means either of exciting or confirming this good hope in all our souls! The aim of this discourse is simply to show, that
A good hope, through grace, is an invaluable blessing to a Christian, both in life and death.
Now this good hope includes several important ideas, which are not always considered as they ought to be.
1. First, it includes, a serious, believing, persistent regard to a future state, as it is represented in the sacred Scriptures.
No atheist, denying the being of God, no deist, rejecting the Bible, can possess this hope. We owe it all to the gracious revelation of God in the Gospel, in which life and immortality are brought to light. Without these, all is vague, and dark, and doubtful; but with God’s word in our hands, we learn the nature of our own immortal spirits; the certainty of their existing separately from our bodies after death; the resurrection of these mortal bodies from the grave; and the complete blessedness of the saints in the kingdom of God for ever.
Believing the testimony of God on these important points, the believer often thinks and meditates upon the eternal world, and can in some measure say with the apostle, we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. And this habitual respect to future things will show itself by a serious regard to the Lord’s day, to the ordinances of his house, to the Scriptures of truth, to secret prayer, and all those means of spiritual growth and improvement, which are connected with this hope.
2. As a foundation for this hope, there must be a humbling conviction of our being sinners, and of our danger and helplessness as such.
The law must do its work, in convincing us of our guilt and misery, and exciting in us a sincere desire to run from the wrath to come; for without this, it is difficult to conceive how there can be any hope of salvation, as it implies a deliverance from the dreadful and deserved consequences of our rebellion against God. We can therefore scarcely suppose a person to know anything of hope, who never knew what it was to fear; for the hope of the Gospel is properly opposed to the fear of the law. And this leads us to observe, that,
3. This hope implies some familiarity with the glorious Gospel of salvation by Jesus Christ.
It is called, in Colossians 1. 23, “The hope of the Gospel,” a hope derived solely from its doctrines and promises; it is a hope inseparably connected with “the faith of the Gospel;” and in this it is essentially different from a hope arising from mistake, from superstition, or from the blindness of self-love.
The term a good hope, seems designed to distinguish it from every kind of hope, which is not good. We read in the book of Job, in chapter 8. 13, of the hypocrite’s hope; and it is said of it, that it shall perish, and be cut off; and that his trust, his confidence and security, shall be as a spider's web, it will be swept away with the broom of destruction. In another place (Job 27. 8.) it is said— “what is the hope of the godless when God cuts him off, when God takes away his life?” A hypocrite may have a hope, such as it is; and he may be a gainer by it; he may gain the applause of men; but when death comes, when God takes away his soul, what becomes of his hope? it fails him when he needs it most; for the righteous finds refuge in his death; but “the wicked is overthrown through his evildoing.” How vitally important it is then to have a good hope!
Let us therefore consider on what accounts the hope of the Gospel is called a good hope. And there are three things which entitle it to that name; for the object of it is good—the foundation of it is good—and the effect of it is good.
1. The object of this hope is good—supremely good.
All hope has something good for its object, something at least considered to be good. But the object of the believer’s hope is eminently, infinitely good. It is none of the superficial and dazzling objects of sense; not worldly honor, nor earthly wealth, nor sensual delight; but the pure, spiritual, exalted joys of the heavenly world; those pleasures which are at God’s right hand for evermore; those objects which the word of God reveals, and which faith discerns; for “faith is the assurance (or basis) of things hoped for;” faith gives credit to the testimony of God, concerning what he has prepared for them that love him; and hope expects to enjoy them in God’s good time.
It does not indeed fully appear as yet what we shall be; the details of the joys of heaven are not described in detail; but they are “ready to be revealed in the last time.” This we know, that death, dreadful as it naturally is, will be friendly to the believer in releasing him from that body of sin and death, in which he now groans, being burdened. To be “absent from the body,” is to be “present with the Lord.” And who can tell the blessedness of that condition!
It is a great thing to be freed from all pain and disease—to have “all tears wiped away from our eyes,” to be where there is “no more death, neither sorrow nor crying.” But it is something unspeakably greater and more glorious, to be “before the throne of God and the Lamb;” it must be infinitely delightful to be “with Christ”—to be “forever with the Lord.” This was the apostle Paul’s highest idea of heaven, “to be forever with Christ;” and our Lord himself, in his prayer for his disciples, expresses a higher notion of happiness than this—That they “may be with me where I am, to see my glory,” John 17. 24. Here in the mirror of faith we behold that glory obscurely and imperfectly; but there we shall him “as he is” —“see him face to face”—in “our flesh we shall see God,” Immanuel God with us.
How good, then, how glorious is this hope! How pleasant will it be to forever be increasing our breadth of diving knowledge; how delightful to feel ourselves perfectly conformed to the image of God; how satisfying to be always engaged in the divine service of our Redeemer; how pleasing to enjoy the honorable society of glorious angels, of the pure spirits of ransomed sinners; how encouraging the thought of rejoining those dear and pious relations and friends who are gone before us to glory, or who will quickly follow us there after a short separation! O how good a hope is this, which includes objects so great, so glorious as these!
2. There is another reason why this hope may be called good, and a most important reason it is—The foundation of it is good: for without a good foundation for our hope, whatever objects it may embrace, it is so far from good, that it will make us ashamed, and end in confusion and disappointment.
Nothing is more common than to profess a hope of going to heaven; it is so common, that,‘‘as I hope to be saved,” is a proverbial saying, even in the mouths of the most profane:—a sad sign, however, that those who use the phrase in a light and superficial manner have no part nor lot in this matter: A good hope through grace. Mark well, the word—“through grace,” —a hope built on the free sovereign favor of God, through the satisfaction of Christ —a hope that rests upon Jesus, the only sure foundation for sinners—a hope that relies on the precious promises of a covenant God. Only such a hope as this can be called good; and we may consider this hope through grace as opposed both to our own merit and demerit.
A hope through grace is opposed to human merit—that fatal “stumbling-stone” both to ancient Jews and modern Christians. How often do we find poor ignorant people, when sick and dying, express their hope of going to heaven, because “they never did any harm"—or “gave everyone his due,”—or “regularly attended church.” But to build our hope on ourselves in this way, is to show a complete ignorance of the Gospel, which gives no hope for a sinner, except in and through Jesus. And so to hope in ourselves is to utterly undermine and destroy the whole plan of Salvation, as the apostle Paul says in Galatians 2. 21. “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
There is a general predisposition among all mankind to put their trust in themselves and their own works; and though there is a multitude of different religions in the world which are contrary to each other in many things, yet they generally agree in this—to bring something of their own as the ground of acceptance with God. The religion of the Gospel is the complete opposite. It allows of no boasting; it teaches the best saint to call himself “an unprofitable servant,” and to say, “far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Those, therefore, whose hope is derived from self, are anti-christian in their plan, and overthrow, as much as they are able, the plan of the Gospel—they “nullify the grace of God”—make it void—set it aside, leave no place for it: they make Christ “to have died for no purpose;” they do not say so with their lips, but they reveal it by their false faith and false hopes; for if there is anything in ourselves to hope in, the death of Christ, who is our hope, and who became such by dying for us is, of course, a needless thing. And this is a dreadful blasphemy. But it is a blasphemy that those who are taught of God cannot be guilty of for they clearly see that Jesus is the only hope of a sinner; and, with the apostle Paul, account their former gain, loss; and count all things to be refuse, that they may know Christ, and be found in him. Phil. 3. 7-8.
As this hope through grace is opposed to the merit of works, so it is also rises in contrast to the demerit of sin. We are sinners; guilty, helpless sinners. And shall sinners hope for heaven? Will vile rebels, who deserve hell, hope for glory? It is written, that “the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of heaven”—that “nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false.” How then can wretches so impure, so vile, so abominable in the eyes of God, and in their own eyes, have any hope of happiness?
To all this we oppose the word grace; this hope, remember, is through grace. We are “saved by grace.” “Grace reigns, through righteousness, leading to eternal life.” We are ungodly by nature: but “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” We were enemies: but “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” Surely it may well be said—“Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more;” and, “much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ,” Rom. 5. 16,17.
And we also see how the apostle Paul opposes the hope by grace to the awful demerit of sin in his letter to Titus Chapter 3, verses 3-7. “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures ... but when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy—so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Jesus Christ is so entirely the ground for our hope, that he takes one of his gracious names from being so; he is called, in 1 Tim, 1. 1, “Our hope;” and in Col. 1. 27, “Christ in you—the hope of glory.”
The good hope we are speaking of derives much of its stability from the promises of God in his word. Faith accepts God's pledge, and hope waits for its payment. “Remember,” said the holy psalmist, “your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope,” Ps. 119. 49. All the good things which believers expect are promised. We have exceeding great and precious promises which all find their Yes in Christ Jesus. On these the Lord causes his people to hope: it is the work of the Holy Spirit to enable us to do this, according to Rom. 15. 13. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” There is such a privilege as abounding in hope,—having an abundant hope, a “lively hope, the full assurance of hope:” so that not one doubt or fear remains as to the final fulfillment of what is hoped for; and wherever this is, it is through the powerful operation of the Holy Spirit.
This was the language of an ancient believer, in 1 Chron. 17. 23, “And now, O Lord, let the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house be established forever, and do as you have spoken” or, as he expresses it in another place, Ps. 119. 116, “Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope.” —a hope that will never make us ashamed.
3. The hope we are describing is good on a third account—The effect of it is good. The man who possesses it is the better as well as the happier for it. The apostle John says, “everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure”—he endeavors by divine grace to reach all possible purity in heart and life, in conformity to the pure and holy Jesus who will allow none but holy ones into his blissful presence.
Gratitude to the kind author of his hope, to whom he owes unspeakable obligations, constrains him to avoid the sins which he hates, and to perform the obedience which he loves. “I hope for your salvation, O Lord, and I do your commandments,” Ps. 119. 166. This hope makes the Christian active in the service of Christ, and for the good of his fellow-men; for he is assured that, though there is no merit in his best performances, yet the same grace, to which he owes his good hope, will crown his labors of love with a unmerited reward; insomuch as a cup of cold water given to a disciple, because he belongs to Christ, will not be forgotten. And so our precious Redeemer himself, “for the joy that was set before him,” was full of zeal in the work of his heavenly Father.
This good hope always promotes holiness, because it diminishes the temptations arising from worldly objects. Worldly things appear wonderfully great and glorious to the little mind of the natural man: he knows nothing greater: but what are the most splendid vanities of earth and time to the eye of faith, which penetrates into the unseen world, and beholds objects too big for words; compared with which the dazzling glories of the world die like a dim ember in the blaze of the noonday sun. In this way Moses reasoned, and the court of Pharaoh lost all its attractions; and so, even afflictions and reproaches, connected with the “recompense of the reward,” became his deliberate choice.
But how good is the effect of this hope under the pressure of hard times! Is the Christian a soldier?—Hope is his helmet; defending his head in the day of battle, until he leaves the field, more than a conqueror, through the love of Jesus.
Is the Christian a sailor? Hope is “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain;” this anchor fixes on the exalted and glorified Jesus, the advocate of believing sinners; and who is, therefore, able to save them to the uttermost.
The hope of glory reconciles the suffering Christian to his painful lot; we therefore read, in 1 Thess. 1. 3, of the “steadfastness of hope;” because hope makes the one who has it patient and resigned to all the will of God, believing that “all things work together for good.” In this way the early disciples, “joyfully accepted the plundering of their property.” Why? because they “knew that they had a better possession and an abiding one”—a substantial treasure prepared for them by divine grace, of which they had already a guarantee, and which could never be lost, or taken away from them.
This good hope taught the apostle Paul to count all his apostolic sufferings “light and momentary,” when weighed in the scale with “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” reserved in heaven for him. With this hope, the Christian, to use the words of an elegant writer—“greatly disdains to wallow in the puddle of sin. The darts of temptation fall ineffectual to the ground. In danger he his is courageous; in sorrow he is moderate; in duty he is diligent; in tribulation he is patient; and even in death he smiles.”
It was proposed, in the beginning of this sermon, to show that a good hope, through grace, is an invaluable blessing to a Christian, both in life and death. And who but an infidel will doubt this? the living infidel that is; for the dying infidel, with every other dying man, must acknowledge its unspeakable value. To obtain this, then, should be the first and main pursuit of life. And have we obtained it? Have you, whose eyes survey, or whose ears listen to this sermon—have you obtained this good hope?
Now, it must be solemnly said, that as “salvation is far from the wicked,” so likewise is “the hope of salvation.” What the wicked and the worldly man calls hope is nothing but presumption.
The sensual sinner, who is living in the lusts of the flesh, can have no scriptural hope of heaven; for only “the pure in heart shall see God.”
The earthly-minded sinner, whose soul clings to the things, the pleasures, the entertainments, of this world, cannot hope for heaven; he must be born again, or he can never see the kingdom of God.
It is to no purpose that the self-righteous Pharisee boasts of his hope; his hope is no better than the spider’s web: it will not survive the day of trial.
He who hopes in himself, and not in Christ, will be found like the foolish builder, whose house was built on the yielding sand: when the rain descends, and the winds blow, and the floods come, the house will fall; and great will be the fall of it.
Nor will the hope of the hypocrite be at all any better, whose religion was only a mask intended to conceal his beloved sins; the all-searching eye of Christ will penetrate through the thickest disguise, and the holy judge will say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you worker(s) of lawlessness.”
May Almighty God undeceive any who are caught in these traps of the devil! May he deliver them from their cherished delusions! destroy their false hopes; and bring them, as humble penitents, to his feet, that they may obtain forgiving mercy, receive the sanctifying Spirit, and in this way obtain “a good hope through grace!”
Christian! examine your hope. Is it a good hope? Is the object of it good? Yes; it is being with Christ; and what can be conceived of so good as that? Is the foundation of your hope good? Look carefully into that. Is it Jesus alone? He is our hope. This is a sure foundation, a tried stone. He that believes on him shall not be ashamed. Ask yourself further. Is the effect of your hope good? What influence does it have on your heart and life? Does it purify you? Does it make you thankful? Does it make you active in duty—firm in temptation—patient in afflictions? These are its proper effects, and where these are found, they are solid evidences of the genuine nature of religious hope.
This hope, so useful and such a source of comfort in life, displays its full value at the passage of death. We read that “the righteous has hope in his death.” Then this good hope is worth a thousand thousand worlds. How many believers, in all ages, have experienced its support, when flesh and heart were failing! They could, with perfect composure and satisfaction, commit their departing spirit into the faithful hands of Jesus, saying, “I know whom I have believed;” and when the poor diseased body was about to become a lifeless lump of clay, a wretched mass of corruption, they could say, each one for himself, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” Christ has said, “I will raise it up at the last day.” He has promised it, and he will perform it. I leave this “vile body,” in hope of “the revealing of the sons of God,” when it will be freed from the bondage of corruption; when Jesus, in the great day of his triumph, will change this vile body, and will make it like his own glorious body; for God will bring to Himself those that sleep in Jesus. In sure and certain hope of this complete and everlasting salvation, I resign both soul and body into the Lord’s faithful hands.
Such is the good hope through grace, which a real Christian is entitled to rest on; which he glorifies God by resting on; and which it should be his daily prayer and endeavor to rest on. To this purpose the apostle exhorts the Hebrews (chap. 6. 11.) “We desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end,”—implying, that a full and complete hope of eternal life is attainable; and that, ordinarily, it is to be expected only by the diligent Christian, who abounds (ver. 10.) in the labors of love, showed to the name of Jesus by ministering to his saints.
Relying only on Jesus; living daily on his fullness; aiming continually at his glory; may we abound in this good hope more and more, even to the end of life; until we “inherit the promises”—until hope be exchanged for the full fruition of all those unspeakable glories which God has prepared for those who love him.