Great Texts of the Bible
A Living Hope
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.—1 Peter 1:3.
There is something strange to our ears at the present day both in what these words say and in the joyful, fearless tone in which they say it. We have been born and bred in the faith that Jesus Christ, who was crucified on Calvary, rose from the dead on the third day. We have also been born and bred in the faith that, when our bodies are shut up in a coffin and buried in a grave in the churchyard, that is not the end of us, but that we shall rise again to a future life. Once more, we have been born and bred in the faith that Christ’s rising from the dead at Jerusalem more than eighteen hundred years ago is in some way an assurance of our rising from the dead, and that therefore our hopes of a future life are naturally brought to mind by Easter Day more than by any other day of the year. All this we take rather as a matter of course. But it does not seem to bring us much nearer to St. Peter’s state of mind. We are willing perhaps to allow that thanks are due to God for not leaving us to perish utterly with the decay of our present bodies like sheep or cattle; but we find it hard to join quite honestly in so warmly blessing the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for it. We scarcely think of it as mercy, much less as great mercy. We should hardly of our own accord call our own feeling a lively or living hope. Above all, we cannot enter into that very peculiar saying of St. Peter, that God has begotten us again to a living hope by His Son’s resurrection. It is not hard to understand how our rising from the dead to a better life might be truly called a second birth; and in that case God who will raise us from the dead might well be spoken of as begetting us again. But this is not what St. Peter says. The new life for which he blesses God is something given to us already: and its great mark is that it is a life of glowing hope.
The subject is our living hope. Take it in three divisions—
I. The Source of our Hope
II. The Means of it.
III. The Nature of it.
The Source of our Living Hope
Its source, says St. Peter, is the mercy of God. He calls God’s mercy “the great (A.V. abundant) mercy”; and he calls God “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And he blesses God for it. So we have here a blessing upon the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ on account of His great mercy.
1. Blessed.—There is a distinction maintained in Scripture between “blessed” as applied to God, and “blessed” as applied to men. Although we are obliged to use the same term for both in our language, they are distinct in the Greek. That which is applied to God means to be pronounced blessed; that which is applied to men means to be made blessed. Christians are blessed in the sense that they receive blessings; God is blessed in the sense that He receives, not blessings, but praises. This formula of praise is applicable only to Him from whom are all things.
2. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.—Of all the aspects and attributes of the great God, that which first leaps to the lips of this Apostle is, “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” How real and vivid was spiritual life in those primitive Christians. Faith really dominated. Farm and merchandise receded into the background, and the relations of the soul with God and eternity bounded to the front. And mark how St. Peter finds it possible to draw near to God: he takes refuge in the Mediator. When he sees God as the giver of the unspeakable Gift, he comes forward with boldness. In point of fact, unless we recognize Him in that character, we cannot relish Him in any. “How shall he not also with him freely give us all things?” These men were skilful. They knew where consolation lay; they grasped God by His title of Father of our Lord Jesus, and were enabled to cling in fond confidence as dear children.
A father is one who, because of love, chooses to give of himself, of his own life, that there may be another one, made in his own image, with whom he may have fellowship in spirit, and partnership in service. And whatever some of our scholarly friends may do with the simple Genesis story of creation, it is impossible to get away from this, that its direct purpose was to let us know that God really fathered man. He was moved by love. He chose to have us made. He gave of His own life that we might come into life; and yet more, that we might come into His own sort of life, life like His, and that we should be in His own likeness in our life.
And if there be any doubt at all about this it disappears entirely as we stand on the foot of the hill of the Cross. A father gives of his life at the first that his child may come into life; then he gives constantly that his child may grow into fulness of matured life. And in any emergency that may arise he unhesitatingly gives of his life again, to the extreme of giving it out, that his child may be saved from death.
It was Jesus who taught us to call God Father. The word was used before, but it was used very little. He taught us the blessed habit of using that word for God. But He did infinitely more than teach us the use of a word, even of that great word. He acted the father part for God on Calvary.1 [Note: S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Home Ideals, 140.]
3. According to His great mercy.—It is manifest that this living hope can only be of Divine bestowment; it is at once too lofty and too lasting to come from meaner hands. And it is the gift of God to those who receive the Gospel of His Son. Faith in Christ produces it, and in proportion to the intensity of the faith does the hope increase and brighten. Now we must never forget that, like every other spiritual blessing, it is “not of debt, but of grace.” It is not of our prescriptive or unforfeited right, but “according to His great mercy.” None of those who have realized the hope will deny that its source is the mercy of God. Their conception of sin is too deep, they are too enlightened upon the magnitude of their deliverance, to hesitate upon the matter for a moment. The brow of the sceptical may darken, and the pride of the carnal may rebel; but if you interrogate the godly, you will find that his will is submissive, and his heart is full. The penitent, who has but recently believed, who yet shudders as if he felt the sliding earth—“a blasphemer, a persecutor, injurious”—tells you, amid grateful tears, “but I obtained mercy.” The white-haired saint, as, just ready to depart, he surveys from the Nebo-summit the whole path of his difficult climbing, gasps out his latest testimony, “By the grace of God, I am what I am.” The blessed ones, whose long experience of the golden streets has made them at home in heaven, fling down upon us without ceasing the melody of the same eternal song:—“Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.”
The great question that presses upon the human mind, from age to age, is the inquiry: Is God a merciful Being, and will He show mercy? Living as we do under the light of Revelation, we know little of the doubts and fears that spontaneously rise in the guilty human soul when it is left solely to the light of nature to answer it. With the Bible in our hands, and hearing the good news of redemption from our earliest years, it seems a matter of course that the Deity should pardon sin. Nay, a certain class of men in Christendom seem to have come to the opinion that it is more difficult to prove that God is just than to prove that He is merciful. But this is not the thought and feeling of man when outside of the pale of Revelation. Go into the ancient pagan world, examine the theologizing of the Greek and Roman mind, and you will discover that the fears of the justice far outnumbered the hopes of the mercy; that Plato and Plutarch and Cicero and Tacitus were far more certain that God would punish sin, than that He would pardon it. This is the reason that there is no light, or joy, in any of the pagan religions. Except when religion was converted into the worship of Beauty, as in the instance of the later Greek, and all the solemn and truthful ideas of law and justice were eliminated from it, every one of the natural religions of the globe is filled with sombre and gloomy hues, and no others. The truest and best religions of the ancient world were always the sternest and saddest, because the unaided human mind is certain that God is just, but is not certain that He is merciful. When man is outside of Revelation, it is by no means a matter of course that God is clement, and that sin shall be forgiven. Great uncertainty overhangs the doctrine of the Divine mercy, from the position of natural religion, and it is only within the province of revealed truth that the uncertainty is removed. Apart from a distinct and direct promise from the lips of God Himself that He will forgive sin, no human creature can be sure that sin will ever be forgiven.1 [Note: W. G. T. Shedd, Sermons to the Natural Man, 359.]
The Means of our Living Hope
It is by means of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead that we obtain our living hope. But we are said not simply to obtain it but to be “begotten again” to it.
1. We are begotten again to a living hope.—These words speak of a change which can be described only in language to which nothing in human experience can possibly answer. There is no such thing in nature as being begotten again, as a new and second birth. That word “regeneration,” which from Scripture and the Church has passed into the common phraseology of historical and political speculation, involves in its proper meaning an impossible conception—the conception of life once begun, beginning again; and it is no wonder that Nicodemus, with his thoughts moulded and limited by experience and custom, stumbled at it. But nothing less than this strange and violent word would suffice to express the change which the Incarnation of the Eternal Son was to work in the souls of men. And no less a word will suffice for the Apostle, to express the change made in the condition and prospects of God’s chosen by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Here, as in so many other cases, we are not startled, we are not struck, from the long effect of use and habit. These amazing words of Scripture we have heard all our life long; the language in which Prophets and Apostles set forth the wonderful works of God has been before our minds—minds often inattentive, often wandering, and anyhow seldom adequately alive to its full import. In God’s great goodness, these words have been made to us “current coin”; but, as in current coin, the sharpness and freshness of their first impress has been worn away by long familiarity, by the sin and the misuse of centuries, by the irreverence and unfaithfulness of human custom. If we could be carried back to the days when they were written—if we could hear or read an Epistle of St. Paul or St. Peter, as its words fell for the first time or the second on the ears of those to whom it was originally written, and who were living in the midst of the things and events to which it referred—language which we now listen to with so languid an interest would take our minds captive with astonishment; what seems so trite, so tame, so vague, would start in every syllable into life and definite meaning and overpowering surprise; we should feel that we were hearing or reading of things never yet spoken of by the tongues of men, or of thoughts too mighty even for inspired minds.
The language is indeed astonishing, but not more astonishing than that which it represents. That which had come to pass in this world of ours when Jesus Christ died on the Cross and rose from the dead on the third day—that change of all beliefs, all suppositions, all hopes, all motives—that great change required a new outfit of words for its expression. To those who could not break with what they had been accustomed to, who could not imagine it possible that the Son of God could die for men, that any breathing mortal breath could come back from the grave, the new language was simply unintelligible—“unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” But to those who did believe it, even the loftiest and most startling language must have seemed too weak: nothing but that sustained tone of expression, raised to its highest power and boldest strain, which prevails without exception throughout the Epistles of the New Testament, could in any degree correspond to what had now become the supreme realities of men’s existence. To speak of a “new creation,” to speak of “death being swallowed up in victory,” of “life and immortality” being “brought to light,” of men being “born again” into the sonship, and household, and inheritance of God—all this to them was no extravagance of Eastern rhetoric, but the plain “words of truth and soberness.” Such a change as had been in the order of things here, when Christ died and rose again, more than authorized it. How could such things happen, and all things not be made new? The anomaly would have been that men should have seen and should believe such wonders, and yet should speak only in the language to which the world had been accustomed before such things had happened.
The word is peculiar to St. Peter; it is repeated in 1 Peter 1:23 : “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” In another form it occurs 1 Peter 2:2 : “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word” (cf. Luke 10:21). Perhaps St. Peter was not present when our Lord discussed the new birth with Nicodemus. He certainly was present on a later occasion described in St. Mark 9:33 : “And Jesus came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.” “The house” in Capernaum was probably Peter’s house; and the child, if not probably, at least very possibly, Peter’s child. The lesson of child-like simplicity inculcated both here and in the following chapter of St. Mark, where we read of Jesus blessing the infants and saying, “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein,” was not lost upon St. Peter. It bears fruit in this letter of his old age.1 [Note: H. A. Birks, Studies in the Life and Character of St. Peter, 226.]
This is one of the unique phrases of the Christian vocabulary. It is not to be found in systems of thought which are alien from the Christian religion. It is not to be found in the vocabulary of any of the modern schools which are severed from the facts and forces of the Christian faith. The emphasis of their teaching gathers round about terms of quite a different order, such as culture, training, discipline, education, evolution. The Christian religion has also much to say about the process of evolution. It dwells at length upon the ministries of “growth,” “training,” “increasing,” “putting on,” “perfecting.” But while it emphasizes “growth,” it directs our attention to “birth.” While it magnifies the necessity of wise culture, it proclaims the necessity of good seed. So while the Bible lags behind no school in urging the importance of liberal culture, it stands alone in proclaiming the necessity of right germs. You cannot by culture develop the thorn-bush into a laden vine. You cannot by the most exquisite discipline evolve the “natural” man into the “measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” If we had to do merely with perverted growths, then the trainer and pruner might twist the crooked straight. But we are confronted with more than perverted growths, we have to do with the corrupt and rotting seed. And so the Christian religion raises the previous question. It begins its ministry at a stage prior to the process of evolution. It discourses on births and generations, on seeds and germs, and proclaims as its primary postulate, “Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Now, man is not enamoured of that dogmatic postulate. It smites his pride in the forehead. It lays himself and his counsels in the dust. It expresses itself in an alien speech. Men are familiar with the word “educate,” the alien word is “regenerate.” Political controversy has familiarized them with the word “reform,” the alien word is “transfigure.” They have made a commonplace of the word “organize,” the alien word is “vitalize.” They have made almost a fetish of the phrase “moral growth,” the alien word is “new birth.”1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
2. By the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.—The resurrection of Jesus Christ stands in the forefront of all St. Peter’s preaching in the Acts. It stands in the forefront of his Epistle here. No one had richer experience of the abundant mercy of God upon the Resurrection Day than St. Peter himself, and no one more needed a birth and quickening to new hope upon that day. Hope that had died living again through the resurrection of Christ exactly illustrates his own experience.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the closing and culminating act of the redemption that He wrought. If the work had not thereby been completed, it would have been of no avail. The Spirit, through St. Paul, has clearly borne witness that unless the Redeemer’s work had been crowned by His resurrection, our hopes would have been vain (1 Corinthians 15:17). The meaning is, that the completed work of Christ saves His people from sin, and gives them a right to the eternal inheritance. Those who are born again rise with Him into resurrection life. The life that they now live in the flesh, they live by the faith of the Son of God. Earth becomes to these heirs the vestibule of heaven.
The writers of the New Testament believed that Christ was the Firstborn from the dead; and we see how this altered the whole face of the world and life. It enlarged almost infinitely the interest even of this present mortal life on earth by giving it a meaning and a future; but it transferred the scene of man’s true and free perfect existence to a sphere far beyond this, far beyond the swift passage of the seventy years with their weakness and sorrow, far beyond that transitory but laborious stage, when every day, as it came and went, brought its trial, its temptation, its choice, perhaps its fall—to the sphere where all was eternal and all was accomplished. And it did this, it opened this great moral hope, as never had been done before; not for the great and elect souls of the race only, but for the obscure and down-trodden crowds, the multitudes that none can number—the slave, the lost, the abject, the miserable. For in His own person, Son of God and Son of Man, He had made the step from old things to new; and He had made it for all His brethren.1 [Note: R. W. Church, Cathedral and University Sermons, 135.]
O’er the dead King low in the dust
No ray supernal gleams;
While hope in hearts by sorrow crushed
Dies with the waning beams.
The third day dawns; hush! ’tis the beat
Of quiv’ring angel-wings;
And hark! a strain, glad, clear, and sweet
High through the welkin rings.
“Hail! Victor, hail! through direful strife
The Grave, Death, Hell o’ercome;
Crowned with the might of Risen Life
To draw Thy wand’rers home.”
A wand’rer I, oh! living Lord;
I come, I cling to Thee;
My Brother loved, my God adored,
Life, Rest and Home for me.
The Nature of our Hope
1. It is called “a living hope.” In what sense is it living?
(1) It is the hope of a living man.—A dead man cannot think, cannot wish, cannot hope, neither can a man spiritually dead possess the Christian’s living hope. The carnal man minds earthly things, is more or less absorbed in them; and to be carnally minded is death. In the mind of such a man this hope cannot bud and blossom, cannot, indeed, exist unless it be in a delusive form. They are opposites and cannot be brought into conjunction or companionship without a radical change in the man’s nature. The Apostle, reminding the Ephesians of their carnal state, says, “At that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope.” There must be a change, therefore, from the carnal to the spiritual state before this hope can be planted in the soul, before a man can truly say, “The Christian’s hope is my possession. I have it! It is mine!”
There is in Scotland an old castle, where far below the ground level was discovered, some time ago, a dark and noisome dungeon. No sunbeam could find its way into its pestilential depths. The very air was laden with damp and disease, and when the workmen, letting in the light, made their way into the dungeon, they found on the wall, scratched by some miserable wretch who had met his doom there, the pitiful words, “No hope. No hope.”1 [Note: Quintin Hogg, 396.]
It has been well said: “Death and death alone is what we must consult about life; and not some vague future or survival, in which we shall not be present. It is our own end; and everything happens in the interval between death and now. Do not talk to me of those imaginary prolongations which wield over us the childish spell of number: do not talk to me—to me who am to die outright—of societies and peoples! There is no reality, there is no true duration, save that between the cradle and the grave. The rest is mere bombast, show, delusion! They call me a master because of some magic in my speech and thoughts; but I am a frightened child in the presence of death!”
That is where we stand. For us death is the one event that counts in our life and in our universe. It is the point whereat all that escapes our vigilance unites and conspires against our happiness. The more our thoughts struggle to turn away from it, the closer do they press around it. The more we dread it, the more dreadful it becomes, for it battens but on our fears.2 [Note: M. Maeterlinck, Death, 1.]
(2) It centres in a living Christ.—We are begotten to it—how? “By the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Our hope is rooted in the resurrection—that is, centred in Christ, not only because He once died for the sinner’s guilt, but because He is now alive for evermore, our Advocate with the Father, our great High Priest as well as our Sacrifice. If the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are not theologically one, practically they are. They are interlocked. They are conjoined. You cannot divorce them without destroying their redemptive worth. Without the resurrection the efficacious death would be of no avail redemptively. Hence the Apostles speak of Jesus Christ as “delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification”; “who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead … that your faith and hope might be in God.” “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect?” There is a bold, defiant challenge for you! How dare even an Apostle give utterance to it? Here is his reason, “It is Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again!”
It has often been a subject of wonder in modern thought that Christianity should rest the hopes of the human race so greatly on the concrete instance of Christ’s resurrection rather than on the general inference of the heart and of the reason. But still, as a matter of history, this concrete, particular resurrection has brought about a belief which the inference of universal reason failed to produce. Mankind has manifested a profound capacity for being influenced by concrete instances rather than by abstract speculations. It seems difficult to deny that our Lord’s own argument for the continued existence of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of the dead in general, on the ground of the immortality of Him with whom they were spiritually united, has been less understood down the centuries, and far less influential in deepening the hopes of the human race, than the particular fact that He Himself rose again the third day from the dead. It is of small value to indicate by what means we should prefer the deepest convictions of humanity to have been developed. The fact remains that faith in immortality has been created and intensified by the concrete resurrection of Christ as it has been by nothing else in the world. Of course, not by that resurrection apart from the personality in that resurrection, and from all that the Divine Personality involved. It has been the fact together with its significance. Still it has been the fact rather than abstract considerations. Reason and heart, apart from Christ’s resurrection, have faltered and often failed. Where they have proved inconclusive or ineffective the triumphant morning in Joseph’s garden has determined the conviction and hopes of millions. Once more, let it be repeated that it is belief in the literal physical resurrection which has immensely strengthened and confirmed men’s hope in immortality. It was not in the least that as men looked on Jesus’ grave their instincts told them that such human goodness had only been transplanted and must flourish elsewhere. It was not a mere faith that the good cannot really die. It was literally the reappearance in human form of Him who was dead and is alive again which wrought this mighty advancement in the hopes of the human race.… It is because we are persuaded that a Person literally Divine has already immortalized our human nature in the precincts of light that we are also persuaded of our own immortality.1 [Note: W. J. S. Simpson, Our Lord’s Resurrection, 277.]
While Christ lay dead the widowed world
Wore willow green for hope undone:
Till, when bright Easter dews impearled
The chilly burial earth,
All north and south, all east and west,
Flushed rosy in the arising sun;
Hope laughed, and Faith resumed her rest,
And Love remembered mirth.2 [Note: C. G. Rossetti, Poems, 168.]
(3) It is contrasted with hopes that are dead.—Many once-fondly cherished hopes are to be found withered and strewn on life’s pathway. How many a man has “made gold his hope, and said to fine gold thou art my confidence,” and has “rejoiced because his hand had gotten much,” who found out when too late that he had been building his life on a foundation of sand. “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” How many have made pleasure their hope, who, when they had squandered all their life and soul forces, found that “the world passeth away and the lust thereof”—the power to enjoy. How many have made ambition their hope, who have found out what a poor pillow popularity makes for a dying head, what a wretched salve for a smiting conscience, and how empty it is, too, when its highest pinnacle is reached. “The expectation of the wicked shall perish.” “Their hope shall be as the giving up of the ghost.” “What is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul?” But “blessed is the man … whose hope the Lord is!” It is a living hope. It shall never perish, for God has pledged its realization under the seal of His own oath. “Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus.”
Dead hopes are like dead children, beautiful, it may be, even in death, but how sad and heart-breaking to look upon. Every one, as he passes through the pilgrimage of life, has to leave behind him dead hopes which he buried with tears; the fortune which he was going to win, and which failed; the ambition which he was going to realize, and which eludes his grasp; the human love which was going to be his possession for life, and which deserts or betrays him; the child, that was going to be the strength and joy of his old age, and that death snatches from him.1 [Note: J. G. Greenhough, Christian Festivals and Anniversaries, 77.]
2. But besides being a living hope in these special ways, the hope to which we are begotten by the Resurrection has three characteristics.
(1) It is a hope that recognizes the presence of God in Christ.—Who among the most favoured of Prophets could have raised their souls to the hope that the day would come when God should be made known to men, as God was made known in the Person of Jesus Christ—that what their prophetic words signified was such a manifestation of God to man as the Gospels record? Who among them could have imagined that He who came and disclosed to men that mystery and nature of the Godhead which had been veiled to Moses and Isaiah, was to abide with those whom He had redeemed, till He returned to judge the world? And yet this is the “living hope” to which the successive generations of Christian people are heirs, by virtue of that great change in their condition made by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself,” was the awestruck reflection of the Prophet, even while recounting the power and providence of the “God of Israel, the Saviour”; and nature and conscience, His witnesses throughout all the earth, yet echoed the confession—“A God that hideth Himself.” This hidden God made known, made certain, this was what man sought after—this was the “Desire of all nations.” And this was given. God came forth from the depths and uncertainties of nature, from the clouds and terrors and enigmas of Providence, from the veil and mystery behind which Israel worshipped Him, from the silence in which He was yet the dim hope of all the ends of the earth—He came forth and showed Himself, He came forth and gave Himself to the love and hearts of men. He taught with human words; He healed, He forgave, He blessed; He drew souls to Himself with new and Divine affections; with men and for men, He passed from this life through that dark gate of fear and humiliation which we call Death. And if this had been all—if He had passed at once from the grave which could not hold Him to His glory above—who among us knows enough to dare to ask why He should have stopped at this, why He should have vouchsafed no more, whether with only so much His promise could have been fulfilled and His work accomplished? But this, as we know, was not all. On earth itself He was again, alive from the dead. On earth again, as He had been before, and yet not as He had been before: passing across the scene of life, yet no longer mortal—conversing, walking, eating with men, but vanishing the next moment from their sight; in form, in love, in power the same, but no longer bound by the body of humiliation which He had worn with His brethren; lifting their thoughts above all that is natural, carnal, earthly in the body, fixing them on all in it that is real and personal. And this was the beginning of a Presence of God which was nevermore to be withdrawn from the sons of men.1 [Note: R. W. Church, Pascal and other Sermons, 193.]
(2) It is a hope that assures us of the triumph of righteousness in the earth.—Everywhere, the Apostles saw men “rise on stepping stones of their dead selves” to higher things, to a new life, lifted out of the grave of an unholy career into a noble and saintly manhood. How was it accomplished? It was due, not to the memory of a dead hero, worshipped and idealized, but to the vivifying power, the transfiguring energies of the ever-living Christ, with whom by faith they were united.
Now an old man, I dream dreams of great hope, when I plead with those who will carry forward what my own generation has left unattempted or unaccomplished to welcome the ideal which breaks in light upon them, the only possible ideal for man, even the fullest realization of self, the completest service of others, the devoutest fellowship with God: to strive towards it untiringly even if it seems “to fade for ever and for ever as we move.” The world is ruled by great ideals; the soul responds to them. If they are neglected or forgotten they reassert themselves, and in this sense truth prevails at last. Without an ideal there can be no continuity in life; with it even failures become lessons. To a “surrendered soul” there can be no discouragement; for, as we have been truly told, “discouragement is the disenchantment of egoism.” But we are God’s ministers; and the highest which we can imagine for men, for nations, for humanity falls short of God’s will for His creatures, and of the resources which He offers to us for its accomplishment.1 [Note: Westcott, Lessons from Work, 300.]
(3) It is the hope of a life to come.—Man needs a hope resting on something beyond this scene of sense and time. And God has given him one, by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Our Lord indeed taught, in the plainest language, the reality of a future life. “In my Father’s house are many mansions: I go to prepare a place for you.” “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” “These shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.”
Passages of this kind from among the very words of Christ might be multiplied: but in teaching that man would live after death, our Lord was teaching only what, with various degrees of distinctness, pagans and Jews had taught before Him. He contributed to the establishment of this truth in the deepest convictions of men, not merely many lessons taught in words, but a fact, palpable to the senses. When, after saying that He would rise from the grave, He rose, He broke the spell of the law of death. He made it plain, within the precincts of the visible world, that a world unseen and eternal awaits us hereafter. His Resurrection converted hopes, surmises, speculations, trains of inference, into strong certainties. “Because I live ye shall live also” was a saying which faith, under the guidance of reason, would henceforth inscribe upon Christ’s empty grave. For that He had risen was not a secret whispered to a few; it was verified by the senses of five hundred witnesses; and, in face of a jealous and implacable criticism which would fain have silenced its eloquent protestation, established the fact that there is a world beyond the grave, in which Christ is King.
In a Scottish valley, beside a little brook, where there was no kindly soil, a Highlander once planted a tree. Of course it wilted and drooped. But suddenly, to the surprise of every one, it took a new start in life, and bore rich fruit. What was the source of its new life? That was the query put by all who knew it. An examination revealed the secret. With a marvellous vegetable instinct it sent out a shoot which ran along and over a narrow sheep bridge and rooted itself in the rich loam on the other side of the brook. From this rich loam it drew its new life. Even so, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ bridges the River of Death that flows between earth and Heaven.1 [Note: David Gregg, in The Treasury, July 1899, p. 248.]
Sweet Hope is soveraigne comfort of our life:
Our joy in sorrow and our peace in strife;
The dame of beggars and the queene of kings:
Can these delight in height of prosperous things
Without expecting still to keep them sure?
Can those the weight of heavy wants endure
Unless persuasion instant paine allay,
Reserving spirit for a better day?
Our God, who planted in His creature’s breast
This stop, on which the wheeles of passion rest,
Hath rays’d, by beames of His abundant grace,
This strong affection to a higher place.
It is the second vertue which attends
That soule whose motion to His sight ascends.
Rest here, my mind, thou shalt no longer stay
To gaze upon these houses made with clay:
Thou shalt not stoope to honours or to lands,
Nor golden balles, where sliding fortune stands;
If no false colours draw thy steps amisse,
Thou hast a palace of eternal blisse,
A paradise from care and feare exempt,
An object worthy of the best attempt.
Who would not for so rich a country fight?
Who would not runne that sees a goal so bright?
O Thou, Who art our Author and our End,
On whose large mercy chains of hope depend;
Lift me to Thee by Thy propitious hand,
For lower I can find no place to stand.2 [Note: Sir John Beaumont.]
(4) It is a hope that glorifies death.—The Resurrection does not merely proclaim immortality. It declares likewise that death leads to life. It assures us that death is the portal to eternity. Thus it glorifies death; it crowns and consecrates the grave. What is the message of the Kisen Christ—the Alpha and Omega—to His Churches? Not merely “I am he that liveth.” This was a great fact, but this was not all. Read on. “I am he that liveth, and I was dead.” Death issuing in life—death the seed, and life the plant and blossom and fruit—this is the great lesson of the Gospel. “I was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.”
There is no part of the history of Jesus which is either unimportant in itself or uninteresting to those whom He shed His heart’s blood to redeem. Matters which are seemingly trivial have couched in them a grave significance, and bear directly and impressively upon the great purpose for which He came into the world. And yet—save that death which is the foundation of our hopes of life—there is no spot more hallowed to the affections of the believer, more sacred to his pilgrim feet, than the garden in which there was a sepulchre, where, amid the flowers of the opening spring, the body of Jesus was laid. Oh! surely the heart will kindle, as we visit it, with thoughts of triumph, not of terror, for it speaks to us of a destroyed destroyer—of a mighty despotism shattered for ever—of a deliverer, whose victory were not complete unless a rejoicing people share it.
Lift up thine eyes to seek the invisible:
Stir up thy heart to choose the still unseen:
Strain up thy hope in glad perpetual green
To scale the exceeding height where all saints dwell.
Saints, is it well with you?—Yea, it is well.—
Where they have reaped, by faith kneel thou to glean:
Because they stooped so low to reap, they lean
Now over golden harps unspeakable.—
But thou purblind and deafened, knowest thou
Those glorious beauties unexperienced
By ear or eye or by heart hitherto?—
I know whom I have trusted: wherefore now
All amiable, accessible tho’ fenced,
Golden Jerusalem floats full in view.1 [Note: C. G. Rossetti, Poems, 209.]
A Living Hope
Arnot (W.), The Lesser Parables and Lessons of Grace, 265, 270.
Beaumont (J. A.), Walking Circumspectly, 171.
Burrell (D. J.), God and the People, 287.
Church (R. W.), Pascal and other Sermons, 159.
Greenhough (J. G.), Christian Festivals and Anniversaries, 76.
Hodge (C.), Princeton Sermons, 156.
Hort (F. J. A.), Village Sermons, 108.
Hutton (R. E.), The Crown of Christ, ii. 47.
Jones (J. C.), Studies in the First Epistle of Peter, i. 15.
Liddon (H. P.), Easter in St. Paul’s, 135.
Liddon (H. P.), Sermons (Contemporary Pulpit Library), iii. 115.
Lightfoot (J. B.), Sermons on Special Occasions, 233.
Pope (W. B.), Discourses on the Lordship of the Incarnate Redeemer, 360.
Punshon (W. M.), Sermons, ii. 80.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xvi. (1870) 481.
Stuart (E. A.), Sermons (City Pulpit), iv. 77.
Thomas (W. H. G.), The Apostle Peter, 146.
Thorne (H.), Foreshadowings of the Gospel, 205.
Whitworth (W. A.), Christian Thought on Present Day Questions, 106.
Wilberforce (S.), Sermons on Various Occasions, 103.
Christian World Pulpit, i. 376 (Liddon); x. 264 (Solomon); xxiii. 163 (Hubbard); xxx. 85 (Pearse); lxxiii. 253 (Martin).
Churchman’s Pulpit; Easter Day and Season: vii. 349 (Mackay), 351 (Pope).
Treasury (New York), xvii. 248 (Gregg); xviii. 946 (Hallock).