What Is Your Hope?
Adapted from a Sermon by J.C. Ryle
“Good hope through grace.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16
Verse 16 of the chapter we have just read speaks of “good hope through grace.”
And so what is your hope? What is your hope about your soul?
Another year in our short lives is drawing to a close. The sand is quickly running out of the glass. We are drifting on toward death, judgment, and eternity. A few more winters and we shall be gone. Surely you will not be surprised if I cry aloud, as a spiritual watchman, and say, “what is your hope about your soul?”
“I hope” is a very common expression. Everybody can say, “I hope.” On no subject is the expression used so commonly as it is about religion. How often has an awakening of conscience been turned off by this convenient form of words, “I hope.”—“I hope it will be all right in the end.”—“I hope I shall be a better man some day.”—“I hope we shall all get to heaven.”—But why do they hope? On what is their hope built? Too often they cannot tell you. Too often it is a mere excuse for avoiding a disagreeable subject. “Hoping” they live on. “Hoping” they grow old. “Hoping” they die at last,—and find too often that they are lost for ever in hell.
And so I ask all here present to pay serious attention the subject before us. It is surely deeply important. It is “in … hope we (are) saved” (Rom. 8:24) says Paul to the Romans. Let us, then, make sure that our hope is sound.—Have you a hope that your sins are pardoned, your heart renewed, and your soul at peace with God? Then see to it that your hope is “good,” and “living,”(1 Peter 1:3) and one that “does not put (you) to shame.” (Rom 5:5) Consider your ways. Do not shrink back from honest, searching examination of the condition of your soul. If your hope is good, examination will do it no harm. If your hope is bad, it is high time to know it, and seek a better one.
There are five marks of a “good hope.” I want to place them before you in order. Ask yourself what you know of them. Prove your own state by them. Happy is the one who can say of each one of these marks, “I know it by experience. This is my hope about my soul.”
I. In the first place, a good hope is a hope that one can explain.
What says the Scripture? Always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Pet. 3:15.)
If your hope is sound, you must be able to give some account of it. You must be able to show why, and on what grounds, and for what reason you expect to go to heaven when you die. Now can you do this?
Now this is not to say that deep learning and great knowledge are necessary for salvation. A man may know twenty languages, and have the whole body of divinity at his finger tips, and yet be lost. A man may be unable to read, and have a very weak understanding, and yet be saved. But anyone who has this hope will certainly be able to say something of its nature.
And again, this is not to say that a power of talking well is necessary to salvation. There may be many fine words on a man’s lips, and not a speck of grace in his heart. There may be few and stammering words, and yet deep feeling within, planted there by the Holy Spirit. There are some who cannot speak many words for Christ, and yet would die for Him. But for all this, the one who has a good hope ought to be able to tell us why. If he can tell us no more than this, that “he feels himself a sinner and has no hope but in Christ,” it is something. But if he can tell us nothing at all, it is to be suspected that he has no real hope.
No doubt this opinion is objectionable for many. Thousands can see no need for that clear knowledge, which I am saying is essential to a saving hope. So long as a man goes to Church on Sunday, and is baptized, and takes the Lord’s Supper, they think we ought to be content. “Knowledge,” they tell us, “may be very well for ministers and professors of theology, but it is too much to ask of common men.”
The answer to all such people is short and simple. Where in the whole New Testament do we find that men were called Christians, unless they knew something of Christianity? Is it reasonable to think, that a Corinthian Christian, or a Colossian, or Thessalonian, or Philippian, or Ephesian, could not have told us what was his hope about his soul? No, insisting that a person know the ground of his hope is only setting up the standard of the New Testament. Ignorance may suit a Roman Catholic well enough. He belongs to what he believes is the true Church! He does as his priest tells him. He asks no more!—But ignorance ought never to be the characteristic of a Christian. He ought to know what he believes, and if he does not know he is in a bad and questionable state.
And so search your own heart, and see how the matter stands with your soul. Can you say nothing more than this, that “you hope to be saved?” Can you give no explanation of the grounds of your confidence? Can you show nothing better than your own vague expectation? If this is the case, you are in imminent danger of being lost for ever. Like Ignorance, in Pilgrim’s Progress, you may get to your journey’s end, and be ferried by Vain Hope over the river, without much trouble. But like, Ignorance, you may find to your sorrow that there is no admission for you into the celestial city. None enter in there but those who know what they have believed.
I lay down this principle as a starting point, and I ask you to consider it well. Now there are certainly different degrees of grace among true Christians. There are many whose faith is very weak, and whose hope is very small, in the family of God. But notwithstanding all of this, the man who has a good hope will always be able to give some account of it.
II. In the second place, a good hope is a hope that is drawn from Scripture.
What does David say? “I hope in your word.” “Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope.” (Ps 119:81, 49) What says the Apostle Paul? “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” ( Rom. 15:4.)
If your hope is sound, you ought to be able to turn to some text, or fact, or doctrine of God’s word, as the source of it. Your confidence must arise from something that God has said in His Word, and that your heart has received and believed.
It is not enough to have good feelings about the state of our souls. We may flatter ourselves that all is right, and that we are going to heaven when we die, and yet have nothing to show for our reason but mere fancy and imagination. “The heart is deceitful above all things.” (Jer 17:9) “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool.” (Prov 28:26 NASB)—I, says Ryle, have frequently heard dying people say, that “they felt quite happy and ready to go.” I have heard them say, that “they felt as if they craved nothing in this world.” And all this time I have remarked that they were profoundly ignorant of Scripture, and seemed unable to lay firm hold on a single truth of the Gospel. He says that he could never feel comfort about such people. That he was persuaded that there was something wrong in their condition. Good feelings without Scripture do not make up a good hope.
It is not enough to have the good opinion of others about the state of our souls. We may be told by others on our death-beds, to “keep up our spirits” and “not to be afraid.” We may be reminded that we have lived good lives, and had a good heart, and done nobody any harm, and not been so bad as many. And all this time our friends may not bring forward a word of Scripture, and may be feeding us on poison. Such friends are miserable comforters. However well meaning, they are downright enemies to our souls. The good opinion of others, without the testimony of God’s word, will never make up a good hope.
Would you know the soundness of your own hope? Then search and look within your heart for some text, or doctrine, or fact out of God’s book. There will always be one or more on which your soul hangs, if you are a true child of God. This is the experience of all true Christians. Unlearned, humble, poor, as many of them are, they have got hold of something in the Bible, and this causes them to hope. The “hope [which] does not disappoint” (Rom 5:5) is never separate from God’s word.
You wonder sometimes that the sermons we hear press you so strongly to read your Bible. You wonder why they say so much about the importance of preaching, and urge you so often to attend to the means of grace. This is the reason: Their goal is to make you acquainted with God’s word so that you may have a good hope, and a good hope must be drawn from the Scriptures. Without reading or hearing you must live and die in ignorance. And so we urge you, “Search the Scriptures.” “Hear and your soul will live.”
And beware of a hope not drawn from Scripture. It is a false hope as so many will find out to their cost. That glorious and perfect book, the Bible, however men despise it, is the only source out of which man’s soul can get peace. Many sneer at the old book while living, who find their need of it when dying. The Queen in her palace and the pauper in the work-house,—the philosopher in his study and the child in the cottage,—must all be content to seek living water from the Bible, if they are to have hope at all. Honour your Bible. Read your Bible. Stick to your Bible. There is not on earth a scrap of solid hope for the other side of the grave, which is not drawn out of the Word.
III. In the third place, a good hope is a hope that rests entirely on Jesus Christ.
What says the Apostle Paul to Timothy? He says that Jesus Christ is “our hope.” What does he say to the Colossians. He speaks of “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (1 Tim. 1:1, Col. 1:27.)
The man who has a good hope, founds all his expectations of pardon and glory on the mediation of Jesus the Son of God. He knows his own sinfulness. He feels that he is guilty, wicked, and lost by nature.
But he sees forgiveness and peace with God offered freely to him through faith in Christ. He accepts the offer. He casts himself with all his sins on Jesus, and rests on Him. Jesus and His atonement on the cross,—Jesus and His righteousness,—Jesus and His finished work,—Jesus and His all-prevailing intercession,—Jesus, and Jesus only, is the foundation of the confidence of his soul.
Beware of supposing that any hope is good which is not founded on Christ. All other hopes are built on sand. They may look well in the summer time of health and prosperity, but will fail in the day of sickness and the hour of death. “No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. iii. 11.)
Church-membership is no foundation of hope. We may belong to the best of churches, and yet never belong to Christ. We may fill our seats regularly every Sunday, and hear the best of sermons and yet never hear the voice of Jesus, or follow Him. If we have nothing better than church-membership to rest upon, we are in a poor condition. We have nothing solid beneath our feet.
Reception of the sacraments is no foundation of hope. We may be washed in the waters of baptism, and yet know nothing of the water of life. We may go to the Lord’s table every Sunday of our lives, and yet never eat Christ’s body and drink Christ’s blood by faith. Miserable indeed is our condition, if we can say nothing more than this. We possess nothing but the outside of Christianity. We are leaning on a reed.
Christ Himself is the only true foundation of a good hope. He is the rock,—His work is perfect. He is the stone,—the sure stone,—the tried cornerstone. He is able to bear all the weight that we can lay upon Him. Whoever builds on Him “will not be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:6.)
This is the point on which all true saints in every age have been in entire agreement. Differing on other matters, they have been of one mind on this. Unable to see alike about church government, and discipline they have ever seen alike about the foundation of hope. Not one of them has ever left the world trusting in his own righteousness. Christ has been all their confidence. They have hoped in Him, and not been ashamed.
The death-beds which give believers the most comfort are those of men and women who feel their sins deeply, and cling to Jesus,—who think much of His dying love,—who like to hear of His atoning blood,—who return again and again to the story of His cross. These are the death-beds that leave good evidence behind them.
IV. In the fourth place, a good hope is a hope that is felt inwardly in the heart.
What does the apostle Paul say? He speaks of “hope [that] does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts” He speaks of “rejoicing in hope.” (Rom. 5:5; 12:12.)
The man who has a good hope is conscious of it. He feels within him something that another man does not. He is conscious of possessing a well-grounded expectation of good things to come. That consciousness may be very different in different persons. In one it is strong and well-defined. In another it is feeble and indistinct.—It may be very different in different stages of the same person’s experience. At one time he may be full of “joy and peace in believing.” At another he may be depressed and cast down. But in all persons who have a good hope, in a greater or less degree, this consciousness does exist.
The word of God tells us that the true Christian has “peace,” and “rest,” and “joy,” and “confidence.” It tells us of some who have the “witness of the Spirit,”—of some who “fear no evil,”—of some who enjoy “assurance,”—of some who “know whom they have believed,”—of some who are “persuaded that they shall never be separated from the love of God in Christ.” These are the feelings which a good hope produces. This is that sober, inward experience, in which there is nothing extravagant, enthusiastic, or fanatical. Of such no one need be ashamed. More than that, no man has a good hope, who does not know something of these feelings in his own heart. Even further still, to hold any other doctrine is really to cast dishonour on the whole work of the Holy Spirit.
Will anyone tell us that God ever intended a true Christian to have no inward consciousness of his own Christianity? Will anyone say that the Bible teaches that people can pass from death to life, be pardoned, renewed, and sanctified, and yet feel nothing of this mighty change within? One might as well believe that Lazarus did not know that he was raised from the grave, or Bartimaeus that his eyes could see, as believe that a man cannot feel within him the Spirit of God.
Can the parched traveller in a arid desert drink water, and not feel refreshed? Can the starved sailor in arctic regions draw near to the fire, and not feel warmed? Can the fainting sick man receive the healing medicine, and not feel revived? In each of these cases something will be felt, and just so, a true Christian feels something within. A new birth, a pardon of sins, a conscience sprinkled with Christ’s blood, an indwelling of the Holy Spirit, are no such small matters as men seem to suppose. He that knows anything of them will feel them. There will be a real, distinct witness in his inward man.
And so beware of a hope that is not felt, and a Christianity that has no inward experience. There are idols in our day; idols before which thousands are bowing down. Thousands are trying to persuade themselves that people may be born again, and have the Spirit, and yet not be aware of it,—or that people may be members of Christ, and receive benefit from Him, who have neither faith nor love towards His name. These are the favourite doctrines of modern days! These are the gods which have taken the place of Jupiter, and Mercury! These are the last new deities invented by poor, weak, idolatrous man! From all such idols keep yourself with jealous care. They must, sooner or later, fall to peices. Miserable indeed are the prospects of those who worship them! Their hope is not the hope of the Bible. It is the hope of a dead corpse. Where Christ and the Spirit are, their presence will be felt!
Can anyone in his senses suppose that the apostle Paul would have been content with Christians who knew nothing of inward feelings? Can we imagine that mighty man of God approve of a religion which a person might have, and yet experience nothing within? Can we picture to ourselves a member of one of the churches he founded, who had no conception of peace, or joy, or confidence towards God, and was yet approved by the great apostle of the Gentiles?
This would make no sense at all. The testimony of Scripture is plain and explicit. There are such things as feelings in religion. The Christian who knows nothing of them is not yet converted, and has everything to learn. The cold marble of a statue may well be unimpassioned. A dried Egyptian mummy may well look stiff and still. The stuffed anumal in a museum may well be motionless and cold. They are all lifeless things. But where there is life, there will always be feeling. The good hope is a hope that can be felt.
V. In the last place, a good hope is a hope that is manifested outwardly in the life.
Once more, what do the Scriptures say? “Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:3.)
The man that has a good hope will show it in all his ways. It will influence his life, his character, and his daily conduct. It will make him strive to be a holy, godly, conscientious, spiritual man. He will feel under a constant obligation to serve and please Him, from whom his hope comes. He will say to himself, “What shall I give back to the Lord for all His benefits to me?” He will feel, “I am bought with a price, let me glorify God with body and spirit, which are His.” “Let me proclaim the excellencies of Him who called me out of darkness into His marvellous light. Let me prove that I am Christ’s friend, by keeping His commandments.” (1 Cor. 6:20; 1 Pet. 2:9; John 15:14.)
This is an infinitely importance point in every age. It is a truth which is always attacked by Satan, and needs guarding with jealous care. Let us grasp it firmly, and make it a settled principle in our religion. If there is light in a house, it will shine through the windows. If there is any real hope in a man’s soul, it will be seen in his ways. Show me your hope in your life! Where is it? How does it show itself? If you cannot show it, you may be sure it is nothing better than a delusion and a snare.
The hope that does not make a man honest, honourable, truthful, sober, meek, kind, and faithful in all the relations of life, is not from above.
There are some in our day who flatter themselves they have a good hope, because they possess religious knowledge. They know the contents of their Bibles. They can argue and dispute about points of doctrine. They can quote a great numbers of texts, in defence of their own theological opinions. And yet they have no fruit of the Spirit, no charity, no meekness, no gentleness, no humility, no affection for God’s people, nothing of the mind that was in Christ. And do these people have a good hope? A good hope will always produce good fruit.
There are some again who presume to think they have a good hope, because of God’s everlasting election. They persuade themselves that they were once called and chosen of God to salvation. They take it for granted that there was once a real work of the Spirit on their hearts, and that all therefore must be well. They look down upon others, who are afraid of professing as much as they do. And yet these very people can lie, and cheat, and swindle, and be dishonourable! And do these people have a good hope? No, the election which does not lead to sanctification, is not of God, but of the devil. The hope that does not make a man holy, is no hope at all.
There are some in this day, who imagine they have a good hope, because they like hearing the Gospel. They are fond of hearing good sermons. They will go out of their way to listen to some favourite preacher. They will even weep and be much affected by his words. To see them in church one would think, “Surely these are the disciples of Christ, surely these are excellent Christians!”—And yet these very people can plunge into every folly and gaiety of the world. Time after time they can go with their whole heart to some worldly amusement. They are eager in every worldly celebration. Their voice on Sunday is the voice of Jacob, but their hands on weekdays are the hands of Esau.—And do these people have a good hope? One dare not say so. “Friendship with the world is enmity with God.” (James 4:4) The hope that does not prevent conformity to the world, is no hope at all. “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world” (1 John v. 4.)
And so, beware of any hope that does not exercise a sanctifying influence over your heart, life, tastes, conduct, and conversation. It is a hope that never came down from heaven. The man that has a real hope, no doubt, may be overtaken by a fault. He may stumble occasionally in his practice, and be drawn aside from the right path for a while. But the man that can allow himself in any wilful and habitual breach of God’s law is rotten at the heart. He may talk of his hope as much as he pleases, but he has none in reality. His religion is a joy to the devil, a stumbling block to the world, a sorrow to true Christians, and an offence to God.—Would that men would consider these things! Would that many would use some such prayer as this, “From antinomianism and hypocrisy, good Lord, deliver me! “
And now what was proposed has been done. We have seen the five leading marks of a sound, good hope.
1. It is a hope that a man can explain.
2. It is a hope that is drawn from Scripture.
3. It is a hope that is founded on Christ.
4. It is a hope that is felt within in the heart.
5. It is a hope that is manifested outwardly in the life.
Such is the hope of all true Christians, of every name, and church, and denomination, and people, and tongue. Such is the hope that you must have, if you mean to go to heaven. Such is the hope without which no man can be saved. Such is “the good hope through grace.”
Let me now try to apply the whole subject to your conscience in a practical way. What will it profit you and me to know these truths, unless we use them? What good will it do for you to see the real nature of a good hope, unless the matter is brought home to your own soul?
1. The first word of application shall be a question.
That question is, “What is your own hope about your soul?”
I ask it as an ambassador for Christ, and a friend to your best interests. I ask it in order to stir up self-inquiry, and promote your spiritual welfare. I ask, “What is your hope about your soul?”
I do not want to know whether you go to church. There will be no account of these differences in heaven. I do not want to know whether you approve of the Gospel, and think it very right and proper that people should have their religion, and say their prayers. All this is beside the point. The point I want you to look at is this, “What is your hope about your soul?”
It does not matters what your relations think. Each must stand alone and answer for himself. “Each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Rom. 14:12.) And what is the defence you mean to set up? What is to be your plea? “What is your hope about your soul?”
Time is short, and is passing quickly away. Yet a few years, and we will all be dead and gone. The trees perhaps are cut down, out of which our coffins will be made. The winding-sheets perhaps are woven, which will surround our bodies. The shovels perhaps are made, that will dig our graves. Eternity draws near. There ought to be no trifling. What is your hope about your soul?
Another world will soon begin. Trade, politics, money, lands, houses, cars, eating, drinking, dressing, reading, travelling, working, feasting, will soon be at an end for ever. There will remain nothing but a heaven for some, and a hell for others. What is your hope about your soul?
I have asked my question. And now, What is your reply?
Many would say if they spoke the truth, “I don’t know anything about it. I suppose I am not what I ought to be. I dare say I ought to have more religion than I have. I trust I will have more some day. But as to any hope at this moment, I really don’t know.”
Sadly this is the state of many in our day. There is likely no error or heresy which is ruining so many souls, as the heresy of ignorance. If this is your state, I can only say, May God convert you! May God awaken you! May God open your eyes before it is too late! The word of God is in front of you, take it up, and read, search for the narrow gate, seek the kingdom of God before it is too late.
But many would reply to the question that “they have hope.” They would say, “I am not so bad as some, at any rate. I am no heathen. I am no infidel. I have some hope about my soul.”
If this is your case, I ask you to consider calmly what your hope really is. I ask you not to be content with saying, like the parrot, “I hope,—I hope,—I hope,”—but to examine seriously into the nature of your confidence, and to be sure that it is well-founded.—Is it a hope you can explain? Is it scriptural? Is it built on Christ? Is it felt in your heart? Is it sanctifying to your life?—All that glitters is not gold. I have warned you already that there is a false hope as well as a true. I offer the warning again. I urge you to be careful that you not be deceived. Beware of mistakes in such a matter as this.
Imagine some ships lying quietly in some harbour, about to sail for every part of the globe. They all look equally trustworthy, so long as they are in harbour. They have all equally good names, and are equally well equipped, and painted. But they are not all equally sound, and equally safe. Once let them put to sea, and meet with rough weather, and the difference between the sound and unsound ships will soon appear.—Many a ship that looked well in dock has proved not sea worthy, when she got into deep water, and has gone down at last, with all hands on board! Just so it is with many a false hope. It has failed completely when most wanted. It has broken down at last, and ruined its possessor’s soul. You will soon have to put out to sea. I say again, in this matter of hope for your soul, beware of mistakes.
As we leave this question I pray that God may apply it to the hearts of all here present. We live in a time when there is much counterfeit religion, and many “false hopes” passing off for true. A time when there is much high profession, and little spiritual practice; much church activities and church events and little close walking with God, and real work of the Spirit. There is no lack of blossoms in Christendom, but there is an awful scarcity of ripe fruit. There is an abundance of church activity, but a scarcity of practical holiness. There are myriads who have a name to live, but few whose hearts are really in the work of Christ,—few whose affections are really set on things above. There will be some awful failures yet in many places. There will be still more awful revelations at the last day. There are many hopes now-a-days, which are utterly destitute of foundation. Again, I say, for the last time, beware of mistakes.
2. The second word of application, will be a request.
It is for any who feel they have no hope, and desire to have it. It is a short, simple request. I entreat you to seek a good hope while it can be found.
A good hope is within the reach of any man, if he is only willing to seek it. It is called emphatically in Scripture, a “good hope through grace.” (1 Thess 2:16) It is freely offered, even as it was freely purchased. It may be freely obtained, “without money and without price.” (Is 55:1) Our past lives do not make it impossible to obtain it, however bad they may have been. Our present weakness and infirmity do not shut us out, however great they may be. The same grace which provided mankind with a hope, makes a free, full, and unlimited invitation, “Let the one who desires take the water of life without price;—Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find.” (Rev. 22:17; Matt. 7:7.)
The Lord Jesus Christ is able, and willing to give “a good hope” to all who really want it. He is sealed and appointed by God the Father to give the bread of life to all that hunger, and the water of life to all that thirst. It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell. In Him there is pardon, and peace with God, bought by the precious blood which He shed upon the cross. In Him there is joy and peace for any believer, and a solid, well-grounded expectation of good things to come. In Him there is rest for the weary, refuge for the fearful, a fountain for the unclean, medicine for the sick, healing for the broken-hearted, and hope for the lost. Whosoever feels weary and heavy-laden with sin,—whosoever feels anxious and distressed about his soul,— whosoever feels afraid of death and unfit to die,—whoever he may be, let him go to Christ. This is the thing to be done. This is the path to follow. Whosoever wants hope, let him go to Christ.
If you really want to enjoy a good hope, seek it from the Lord Jesus Christ. There is every encouragement to do so. The Thessalonians in old time were, like the Ephesians, dead in trespasses and sins, having no hope, and without God in the world. But when the apostle Paul preached Jesus to them, they arose from their miserable state, and became new men. God gave them a “good hope through grace.” (1 Thess 2:16) The door through which Manassah and Mary Magdalene entered, is still open. The fountain in which Zacchæus and Matthew were washed, is still flowing. Seek hope from Christ and you will find it.
Seek it honestly and with no secret reserve. The ruin of many is that they are not fair and straightforward. They say that they “try as much as they can,” and that they really “want to be saved,” and that they really “look to Christ.” And yet in the depths of their own heart there lies some darling sin, to which they privately cling, and are resolved not to give it up. Seek honestly, if you want to find a good hope.
Seek it in humble prayer. Pour out your heart before the Lord Jesus, and tell Him all the wants of your soul. Do as you would have done had you lived in Galilee two thousand years ago, and had leprosy. Go directly to Christ, and lay before Him your cares. Tell Him that you are a poor, sinful creature, but that you have heard He is a gracious Saviour, and that you come to Him for hope for your soul. Tell Him that you have nothing to say for yourself,—no excuse to make, nothing of your own to plead,—but that you have heard that He “receives sinners,”(Luke 15:2) and as such you come to Him.
Seek it at once without delay. Stop hesitating between two opinions. Do not linger another day. Cast away the remnants of pride, which are still keeping you back. Draw close to Jesus as a heavy-laden sinner, and lay hold upon the hope set before you. This is the point to which all must come at last, if they mean to be saved. Sooner or later they must knock at the door of grace and ask to be admitted. Why not do it at once?—Why stand still looking at the bread of life? Why not come forward and eat it?—Why remain outside the city of refuge? Why not enter in and be safe?—Why not seek hope at once, and never rest till you find it? Never did a soul seek honestly in the way marked out, and fail to find!
And so this request is before you: seek a good hope while it can be found. I know it deserves attention. God grant that it may not be in vain.
3. The last word of application will be advice.
It is offered to all who have really obtained “good hope through grace;” to all who are really leaning on Christ, walking in the narrow way, and led by the Spirit of God.
i) If you have a good hope, be jealous and watchful over it. Beware that Satan does not steal it away for a time, as he did from David and Peter. Beware that you do not lose sight of it by giving way to inconsistencies, and by conformity to the world. Examine it often, and make sure that it is not becoming dim. Keep it bright by daily carefulness over your disposition, thoughts, and words. Keep it healthy by hearty, fervent, and continual prayer.
The hope of the Christian is a very delicate plant. It is not a local, natural plant but an exotic one from above. It is easily chilled and injured by the cold frosts of this world. Unless watered and tended carefully, it will dwindle away to a mere nothing, and scarcely be felt or seen. None find that out so painfully as dying believers who have not walked very closely with God. They find that they have sown thorns in their dying pillows, and brought clouds between themselves and the sun.
ii) For another thing, if you have a good hope, keep it always ready. Have it at your right hand, prepared for immediate use. Look at it often, and take care that it is in good order. Trials often break in upon us suddenly, like an armed man. Sicknesses and injuries to our frail bodies sometimes lay us low on our beds, without any warning. Happy is he who keeps his lamp well trimmed, and lives in the daily sense of communion with Christ!
Did you ever see a fire-engine in some old country place? It may lie for months in a dark shed, untouched, unexamined, and un-cleaned. The valves are out of order. The leather hose is full of holes. The pumps are rusty and stiff. A house might be almost burnt to the ground, before it could lift a pail-full of water. In its present state it is just about a useless machine.
Did you ever see a navy ship decommissioned and open to the public, in some harbour? The hull may perhaps be good and sound. The superstructure, the wiring, the decks, may be all in perfect shape. But it is not stored, or armed, or fit for service. It would take months, perhaps years, to make it ready for action. In its present state it could do little in its country’s defence.
The hope of many a believer is like that fire-engine, and that ship. It exists. It lives. It is real. It is true. It is sound. It is good. It came down from heaven. It was implanted by the Holy Spirit. But sadly! it is not ready for use. Its possessor will find that out, by his own lack of joy and comfort, when he has to die. Beware that your hope be not a hope of this kind. If you have a hope, keep it ready at hand.
iii) For another thing, if you have a good hope, seek and pray that it may grow more and more strong every year. Do not be content with a day of small things. Desire the best gifts. Desire to enjoy full assurance. Strive to attain to Paul’s standard, and to be able to say, “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, shall separate me from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 8:38,39)
The things before us all will try our hope of what sort it is. Sickness and death are solemn things. They strip off all the tinsel and paint from a man’s religion. They reveal the weak places in our Christianity. They strain our hopes to the very uttermost, and often make us almost despair. Old Christian, in Pilgrim’s Progress, had a difficult trial in crossing the cold river, before he entered the celestial city. Faithful and true as he was, he still cried out, “all thy billows go over me,” and had a hard struggle to keep his footing. May we all lay this to heart! May we seek to know and feel that we are one with Christ and Christ in us! He that has hope does well. But he that has assurance does better. Blessed indeed are they who “by the power of the Holy Spirit … abound in hope.” (Rom. 15:13.)
iv) Finally, if you have a good hope, be thankful for it, and every day give God praise who has made you to be different. Why have you been taught to feel your sin and nothingness, while others are ignorant and self-righteous? Why have you been taught to look to Jesus, while others are looking to their own goodness, or resting on some mere form of religion? Why are you longing and striving to be holy, while others are caring for nothing but this world? Why are these things so? There is only one answer,—Grace, free grace, has done it all. For that grace praise God. For that grace be thankful.
Go on then to your journey’s end; “Rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Rom 5:2) Go on rejoicing in the thought, that though you are a poor sinner, Jesus is a most gracious Saviour, and that though you have trials here for a little time, heaven will soon make amends for all.
Go on, wearing hope as a helmet, in all the battles of life,—a hope of pardon, a hope of perseverance, a hope of acquittal in the judgment day, a hope of final glory. Put on the breastplate of righteousness. Take the shield of faith. Fasten on the belt of the truth. Wield valiantly the sword of the Spirit. But never forget,—as ever you would be a happy Christian, —never forget to put on the helmet of hope. (1 Thess. 5: 8.)
Go on in spite of a contrary world, and do not be moved by its laughter, or its persecution, its slanders, or its sneers, or its abandonment. Comfort your heart with the thought that the time is short, the good things yet to come, the night far gone, the morning without clouds at hand. When the wicked man dies, his expectation perishes, but your expectation will not deceive you,—your reward is sure.
Go on, and do not be cast down because you are troubled by doubts and fears. You are yet in the body. This world is not your rest. The devil hates you, because you have escaped from him, and will do all he can to rob you of peace. The very fact that you have peace is an evidence that you feel you have something to lose. The true Christian may ever be discerned by his warfare quite as much as by his peace, and by his fears quite as much as by his hopes.
The hope of the true Christian is the anchor of his soul, sure and steadfast, (Heb. 6:19.) His heart may be tossed to and fro sometimes, but he is safe in Christ. The waves may swell, and lift him up and down, but he will not be wrecked.
Go on, and “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13.) Yet a little time, and faith shall be changed to sight, and hope to certainty. You shall see even as you have been seen, and know even as you have been known. A few more tossings to and fro on the sea of this world,—a few more battles and conflicts with our spiritual enemy,—a few more years of tears and partings, of working and suffering, of crosses and cares, of disappointments and vexations,—and then, then we shall be at home.
The harbour lights are already in view. The haven of rest is not far off. There we will find all that we have hoped for, and find that it was a million times better than our hopes. There we will find all the saints,—and no sin, no world, no money, no sickness, no death, no devil. There, above all, we will find Jesus, and be ever with the Lord! (1 Thess. 4:17.) Let us hope on. It is worthwhile to carry the cross and follow Christ. Let the world chastise, laugh and mock, if it will, it is worthwhile to be a thorough, decided Christian. I say again, let us hope on.
And now, my hope for you may be expressed in few words. If you never had a good hope before now, may you find it before long! And If you do have had a good hope, may you have it more abundantly!