Great Texts of the Bible
The Saving Grace of Hope
For by hope were we saved: but hope that is seen is not hope: for who hopeth for that which he seeth? But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.—Romans 8:24-25.
As compared with the importance and urgency claimed for faith on the one hand, and for love on the other, in the New Testament, it might almost seem as if hope is scarcely regarded as a duty, or as one of the distinguishing marks of the Christian character. Indeed, it would be difficult to show from the Gospels alone that our Lord Himself attached any importance to hope as a frame of mind to be cultivated; or that He ever enjoined or required it of His disciples, as He so very obviously and even urgently demanded of them an almost unbounded faith. It would not be too much to affirm that, according to the record, we have no positive knowledge that the word “hope” ever proceeded from the Saviour’s lips, or had any place among those many parables and Divine precepts which we associate directly with His earthly life. “O woman, great is thy faith”; “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel”; “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace”—these are among the gracious and encouraging words which we are accustomed to consider as among the most vital and characteristic sayings of Jesus. We have to come to St. Paul to learn, for the first time, that “we are saved by hope.”
And yet the whole life on earth of Jesus, the very temper and disposition of our Lord, as we read of Him in the Gospels; His absolute reliance upon and confidence in His Father; the habitual sunny outlook, as it were, the glad and gracious confidence of the Son of Man amid the despairing and the sinful, and even when, as we know, He Himself had not where to lay His head; the entire absence of all fretfulness and complaining, of all bitterness, of all that in these modern days we call pessimism or cynicism, and in ordinary life down-heartedness or discouragement; the habitual cheerfulness, in short, of the Son of Man, even under what seem the most distressing conditions, till, at the last, He gives Himself up to God, fainting and tortured on the cross, with “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”—surely never before, and never since then, has such a lesson of hopefulness been read to the world; such a truly Divine example of a human being, as St. Paul says, “saved by hope.” And it is the very same lesson in life and in death—often too, as in the supreme case of our Lord, acted but unspoken, a lifelong “song without words”—the lesson of hope arising out of faith, that has been taught us ever since, by every one of those apostles, prophets, and martyrs, who have followed in the steps of the Divine Lord and Master, who came not to enjoy but to suffer, not to be ministered unto but to minister, not to rule but to serve, and so to “give his life a ransom for many.”
Salvation in Hope
If we were to seek to illustrate what seems to be the plain meaning of the text, we might take the case of a sailor, washed overboard and in imminent peril of drowning. He feels his strength ebbing, and is on the point of giving up, when the flash of a boat’s lantern and a hail give him fresh hope, so that, hope lending him vigour, he battles on until he is picked up by his rescuers. Of such a one we may say that he was saved by hope. Had hope not inspired him with fresh strength he would have been lost. Or, again, we may, as an illustration of this meaning of the text, remember how, within limits, patients tend to die or to recover according as they are despondent or hopeful. Such things, then, illustrate what seems to be the plain meaning of the text; and what they suggest is in fact true.
But the meaning thus suggested for our text, though true in fact, is not its real meaning. A better though a less simple translation is, “We were saved in hope.” The text does not tell us by what we were saved. It tells us of something involved in the salvation. Salvation has hope in the heart of it. It is not exhausted in the initial experiences. It is fraught with happy consequences, the hope of which characterizes all those who have been saved. There is an experience, salvation, and something involved in it, hope.
The older commentators for the most part took the dative here as the dative of the instrument, “by hope were we saved.” Most moderns take it as the dative of the manner, “in hope were we saved,” the main ground being that it is more in accordance with the teaching of St. Paul to say that we were saved by faith, or from another point of view—looking at salvation from the side of God—by grace (both terms are found in Ephesians 2:8) than by hope.1 [Note: Sanday and Headlam, Romans.]
Hopefulness is in a very real sense the keynote of all Christian aspiration; the one ever-present distinction of the Christian religion and life from all that ever went before it (with one notable exception), and from much that has obtruded itself as “philosophy,” even in these latter days.
1. We know how in pre-Christian times that vast Oriental system of Buddhism (which still counts more adherents, probably, than any other), even with many admirable moralities set forth in the way of precept, was pervaded throughout by a kind of philosophic pessimism; a hopelessness, in fact, which Schopenhauer in these latter days has only adopted and rendered into more modern terms of expression. The world is, at the best, according to that great Oriental philosophy, an illusion; at the worst, and as tested by human experience, a passing show of misery, disappointment, and vexation. It had been better for all of us not to have been born. Best now, for all of us, simply to cease to be. The only beatitude is Nirvana.
2. The pagan idolatries, into the midst of which Christianity was launched at the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, had no such definite incarnation in a single historic figure, nor perhaps any such definite philosophical outcome, as in the case of the religion of the Buddha. But in a pregnant word of St. Paul, addressed to those who had been “Gentiles in the flesh,” and who, under his teaching, had accepted Christ as their Lord, we find a most striking appeal to their own inward consciousness of the change that had been wrought in their spiritual state. “Wherefore remember,” he says, “that ye were at that time (i.e. before their conversion) strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11-12, R.V.).
3. But St. Paul could even have added to the force of such an argument had he been able to extend it to this present hour, through all the horrors of the destruction of Jerusalem, the abominable persecutions of the Middle Ages, and the long endurance under injustice, confiscation, and proscription (even, alas! and mostly, by professing Christians) of which the Jewish communities scattered throughout the world have been, and are even now, the object. For the Jew, even in his worst national aberrations in the earlier days, and still more in the long years of exile and persecution, and more than ever in St. Paul’s time under the dominion of Rome, had maintained, as his most prominent and unique national characteristic, an undying inextinguishable hope as to the future of his race and country; a hope founded on faith in the one unchanging Jehovah, who had of old chosen and set apart Israel out of all the nations, and never would desert the people of His choice. This, indeed, is the very point of the Apostle’s appeal to the Gentile converts in the Epistle to the Ephesians: they were, he says, “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel,” and therefore “having no hope, and without God in the world.”
Hope was the very life of Israel. “Our fathers trusted in thee.” “The Lord will be the hope of his people,” “the confidence of all the ends of the earth.” And, if the old fire of hope burned low in the ages of Pharisaic formalism, it blazed out again more brightly than ever when Christ our Lord brought life and immortality to light. Christ in us is the hope of glory, the one living power that could overcome the disgust and loathing of that hard old pagan world where hope was lost. And if its brightness was dimmed again in the dark times of Christian Pharisaism, it was never quite extinguished. Beyond the Dies irae rose Jerusalem the golden.1 [Note: H. M. Gwatkin.]
ii. The Christian Hope
1. The Christian hope is not identical with hopefulness. We shall not understand how we are “saved in hope” unless we have a clear idea of the hope of which St. Paul speaks in the text. In so far as it is an act of the mind merely, it does not differ from the hope with which we are all familiar in daily life. Everybody remembers Lord Byron’s words to Hope:—
Be thou the rainbow to the storms of life!
The evening beam that smiles the clouds away,
And tints to-morrow with prophetic ray!
Without hope endeavour would languish. No room would be left for design, or for rational enterprise of any kind. Life would become mere lazy, unconcerned trifling. Everybody feels this, and admits the power which that act of the mind, called by us hope, exercises in and upon our lives. But, though the hope of the text, in so far as it is a mere act of the mind, does not differ from natural hope, in other respects it does differ from it very widely.
As faith is the special counter-agent of materialism, so the counter-agent of pessimism is hope. Like faith, this has a natural basis, which is commonest and strongest in the young. But this natural hopefulness, which varies with temperament, can be confirmed into Christian hope only “by the power of the Holy Ghost.” For the mere natural hopefulness of a sanguine disposition fades when the troubles of life thicken with advancing years, as “the clouds return after the rain.” But “tribulation,” says St. Paul, “worketh patience; and patience, probation; and probation, hope.”1 [Note: J. R. Illingworth, Christian Character, 73.]
2. The importance of the Christian hope may be experienced—
(1) In our daily life.—There is the conflict with sin, in which we often seem to gain no ground, the same temptations recurring year after year with wearisome identity, or disappearing, when resisted, only to reappear in a new form, while our efforts after virtue seem daily to be renewed only that in like manner they may be daily disappointed. And in this long struggle with discouragement, hope is the sole secret of our success, for it is the one thing that enables us to rise after every fall, to take new heart after every failure, resolute to die fighting, rather than accept defeat.
Say not, the struggle nought availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.
For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.
But though Watts calls his tremendous reality Hope, we may call it many other things. Call it faith, call it vitality, call it the will to live, call it the religion of to-morrow morning, call it the immortality of man, call it self-love and vanity; it is the thing that explains why man survives all things and why there is no such thing as a pessimist. If there be anywhere a man who has really lost it, his face out of a whole crowd of men will strike us like a blow. He may hang himself or become Prime Minister; it matters nothing. The man is dead.1 [Note: Chesterton, Watts, 103.]
(2) In old age.—The decrease of capacity, the increase of infirmity, the prospect of the end, oppress the ageing man with gloom, and tempt him cynically to sadden others with the shadow of his own distress. But if we contrast Matthew Arnold’s melancholy picture of old age with the stirring trumpet-tones of Browning’s “Rabbi ben Ezra,” we see, in sharp contrast, how Christian hope has changed all this:
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith, “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”
(3) In the last hours.—This is the climax of our Christian hope: “The righteous hath hope in his death.” “Death,” said Aristotle, “is of all things the most terrible, for it is an end.” And it is precisely because to the Christian it is not an end that his conduct is so different from that of the Greek—a contrast well drawn out by Browning in his “Old Pictures at Florence.” For the Greek and all who think with him must seek their full development in this world; whereas, in the Christian view “man has for ever,” he can afford to wait, and his whole life is conditioned by this fact. Hence his hope culminates in death, as being but the entrance to the life immortal; he dies looking forward and not backward, and therefore progressive to the very end; for hope is the mainspring of progress, and “the righteous hath hope in his death.”
Over the grave of the first Bishop of Manchester is inscribed the one Greek word which in our English Bible is translated “The trumpet shall sound”—a word which carries our minds forward to the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ, and utters forth the note of expectancy in the place where all hopes might seem to have died. Contrast with this Christian inscription what has been found written over the grave of a priest of the religion of pagan Rome in its decay. “He gave to his devotees,”—such is the praise ascribed by the priest to the god he worshipped—“he gave to his devotees kisses and pleasures and fun.”1 [Note: P. J. Maclagan.]
I often examine, with peculiar interest, the hymn-book we use at Carr’s Lane. It was compiled by Dr. Dale. Nowhere else can I find the broad perspective of his theology and his primary helpmeets in the devotional life as I find them there. And is it altogether unsuggestive that under the heading of “Heaven” is to be found one of the largest sections of the book? A greater space is given to “Heaven” than is given to “Christian Duty.” Is it not significant of what a great man of affairs found needful for the enkindling and sustenance of a courageous hope? And among the hymns are many which have helped to nourish the sunny endeavours of a countless host.2 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
Into the dusk of the East,
Grey with the coming of night,
This we may know at least—
After the night comes light!
Over the mariners’ graves,
Grim in the depths below,
Buoyantly breasting the waves,
Into the East we go.
On to a distant strand,
Wonderful, far, unseen,
On to a stranger land,
Skimming the seas between;
On through the days and nights,
Hope in each sailor’s breast,
On till the harbour lights
Flash on the shores of rest!
3. Now it is obvious that when St. Paul says “We were saved in hope,” he is not regarding hope as an unstable or uncertain thing, nor is he regarding it as a quality which we may either take or leave according to our several liking. Far from this, we shall see, if we read the passage aright, that St. Paul is regarding hope as permanent and certain, and as an essential characteristic of the salvation which has already been begun in us; or, to put it more exactly, that very salvation itself is enshrined in hope. But it is noticeable that certain errors with regard to hope are constantly made. Let us see how these errors arise and how St. Paul’s teaching refutes them.
(1) Hope is commonly conceived of as if there were the idea of uncertainty implied in it—as if to say, I hope for a thing, were to say, I look for it doubtfully—I expect it in a measure, but I am not sure of it. But it is not so. The Apostle says: “For we are saved in hope: but hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” Here he puts hope and present vision in contrast; it is not certainty and uncertainty that he is contrasting, but things seen and things not seen; and that there is no idea of uncertainty is plain from the 25th verse, “If we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it,” expressing the peaceful, calm security in which the thing is looked for. Not the slightest indication is there here of any uncertainty involved in the expression “hope.” All that the Apostle conceived to be meant by it was the expectation of a future thing. Now, this being so, it is evident that a serious error is made, the moment we conceive of hope as involving in it uncertainty.
Every human hope is necessarily uncertain, because of the uncertainty of every thing under the sun, the uncertainty of our own life, the uncertainty, in fact, of every thing around us. No wonder that people accustomed thus to see hope doubtfully applied should have associated uncertainty with these words; but observe that the uncertainty is in that on which the hope rests; and, therefore, if a man gets a sure ground on which to judge, there is no need of uncertainty. Faith and hope, in religion, have a reference to the words of God, and these are sure and steadfast; there is, therefore, no reason why they should be uncertain things here. Introduce God as the teller, as the promiser, as the speaker, upon whose testimony our faith goes forth, upon whose promise our hope rests, and then all apology for uncertainty is removed.1 [Note: J. M‘Leod Campbell.]
What can we do, o’er whom the unbeholden
Hangs in a night with which we cannot cope?
What but look sunward, and with faces golden
Speak to each other softly of a hope?
Can it be true, the grace he is declaring?
Oh let us trust him, for his words are fair!
Man, what is this, and why art thou despairing?
God shall forgive thee all but thy despair.2 [Note: F. W. H. Myers, Saint Paul.]
(2) Hope has a reference to a future thing, not a reference to a present or a past thing, and it is confounding the objects of faith and the objects of hope to make that which Christ has done for us an object of hope, or to say that we hope that Christ died for us, or that we have an interest in His blood. What, then, is the object of hope? Just that which God is yet to do. The Gospel reveals God as the Governor of the universe, and sets forth the plan of His government; it makes us acquainted with what He has done, with what He is doing, and with what He has yet to do. The object of Christian hope is what God has yet to do. There is a personality, a reference to one’s own self, involved in it; but while this is the case, it is this great plan of God that is the direct object of hope, and the personality is just something arising out of what it tells us. We can find no words more definite than St. Paul’s own words in the context of our text, as showing what is the great object of hope. “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.”
(3) Hope is not to be regarded as an unnecessary grace. St. Paul says that there are three things which abide—three things, that is, which last under all the changes of fashion and of custom, and of the varying schemes of different generations—three things which remain as the abiding strands of the human character—and of those the first is faith and the second is hope. Now when we turn to consider hope we are brought face to face with this—that hope suffers from not being taken seriously, as faith is. Even those who feel most their lack of faith know that faith is essential; they know that “without faith it is impossible to please God,” and that those who come to God “must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” But with hope it is all different. We look upon hope, do we not, as a kind of beautiful fairy queen; and where hope is so beautiful we are apt to think she can do no useful work. She is like a beautiful woman whom people think to be above doing strong and useful work; but those who know her best, those who have seen the most tragic sides of life, know that although she is bright and beautiful on the bridal morning as the young couple come forth, and think that they are going to tread a path of flowers, yet it is on the tragic side of life that hope is at her best.
’Twas August, and the fierce sun overhead
Smote on the squalid streets of Bethnal Green,
And the pale weaver, through his windows seen
In Spitalfields, look’d thrice dispirited.
I met a preacher there I knew, and said:
“Ill and o’erworked, how fare you in this scene?”—
“Bravely!” said he; “for I of late have been
Much cheer’d with thoughts of Christ, the living Bread.”
O human soul! as long as thou canst so
Set up a mark of everlasting light,
Above the howling senses’ ebb and flow,
To cheer thee, and to right thee if thou roam—
Not with lost toil thou labourest through the night!
Thou mak’st the heaven thou hop’st indeed thy home.
Thus Matthew Arnold. But what did he mean? He meant that Hope, the beautiful queen we think her, too beautiful to soil her hands or mar her face with work, goes up and down the slums of East London with the worker as he toils on through all his difficulties, and that from the worst disappointment he is saved in Hope.
A young man is working in his study. All the glamour of scientific discovery is sweeping over him, and his one great thought is to follow and back up his great master, Darwin. He is studying science, and he makes some of the most original experiments that have ever been made. But the exclusive use of the analytical reason, as in the case of his master, Darwin, clouds his faith. The boyish essay on Prayer is withdrawn from publication, and for years there rests upon his mind a cloud of awful doubt. But he had in his study, at his work, as his constant companion, something that never left him, something that always told him that truth could be learned, that some day his boyish faith would come back to him, something that kept him perfectly honest, perfectly sincere, perfectly true to himself through it all, and that thing was Hope. And when only a week before he died he walked up the Latin Chapel at Oxford, and as a firm believer received the Holy Communion in full possession of his magnificent faculties, it was Hope that walked in front of him, very reverently, having done her work. George Romanes was saved in Hope. It is a calumny, then, on Hope to look on her as a merely beautiful fairy queen. Hope is a nurse, Hope is a worker, Hope is a most delightful and sustaining intellectual friend.1 [Note: Bishop Winnington Ingram.]
iii. The Power of Hope
St. Paul places hope as the second of the Christian graces. It is a tremendous thing to be placed between faith and love. What is the magic power of hope which places her in such a position in the Christian life?
1. The first thing which we notice about hope—and it wants watching to find out the peculiar magic of its power—is that it purifies the human character. “Every man that hath this hope in him,” says St. John, “purifieth himself, even as Christ is pure.” It would be weary dismal work indeed to mark, year after year, our little growth, our frequent failure; to find the same temptations still assaulting us, the same meanness or vanity or envy lurking in our hearts. At times, it may be, we have been half inclined to put up with a lower standard, and to come to terms with our sins; to acquiesce in their occupying some portion of God’s territory. But of His mercy, we are saved by hope. We renew the experience of the Psalmist, “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” To see His goodness; yes, and to be like Him. For we shall see Him as He is. There is the hope which from the triumph of the risen Saviour breaks out upon our souls even in the darkest moments of their self-reproach; we are not fighting only to make the best we can out of fifty or sixty years. We could hardly bear to think what we have wasted and misspent if that were all; we could hardly hold on with the knowledge of the failures that we are. What changes everything for us is that through the often baffled hopes, through the fearful resolutions of our faltering hearts, there comes the thrill of that surpassing, saving hope that by His grace we shall one day be brought where sorrow and sighing flee away; where there shall be no more curse, and no more failure; where the storm of temptation shall be utterly forgotten in the “peace of God, which passeth all understanding.”
Lord, many times I am aweary quite
Of mine own self, my sin, my vanity—
Yet be not Thou, or I am lost outright,
Weary of me.
2. But not only has hope this purifying power, not only will it make us believe that we are meant to live with angels and not herd with animals, not only will it lift a man into a different state of mind altogether, and purify his character, but hope is also the strongest influence that we can exert over other people.
If you have read a little story for children called Little Lord Fauntleroy you have read a magnificent account of the influence of hope on others. You remember how the little lad goes to stay with his grandfather, and that grandfather is one of the most selfish, one of the meanest and most unkind of old men that have ever lived. But the boy believes in him. The boy, only about fourteen, keeps saying to his grandfather, “Oh, grandfather, how they must love you; you are so generous, you are so kind, you are so considerate to every one you meet.” And the lesson of that beautiful story is the influence of hope on character. The old gentleman cannot withstand the belief of his boy; and he grows to be the unselfish generous man that the boy thought him.
3. Hope is the greatest inspirer of corporate work. And here we have to beware of a travesty of hope. Those who serve on boards and committees know that we do not believe very much in the merely sanguine man—the man who has always got a scheme which he thinks perfectly infallible, which he carries through in spite of all advice, and who, by his glib tongue and power of talk, sometimes drags the committee or board into miserable disaster. Now in our proper fear of the merely sanguine man do not let us despise the hopeful man. So far from hope being a hindrance upon boards or committees, social settlements, or any other corporate work, hope is the inspirer that keeps them going. You have sometimes seen the summer breeze sway down the cornstalks in a great field; they all bow beneath its magic power; that is how souls are bowed down by the influence of hope. One hopeful man will save a garrison; one hopeful woman will inspire a parish.
The men of hope carry forward their fellows, as Matthew Arnold has well described, in words that gain impressiveness from their contrast to his own prevailing sadness—
Beacons of hope, ye appear!
Languor is not in your heart,
Weakness is not in your word,
Weariness not on your brow.
Ye alight in our van! at your voice,
Panic, despair, flee away.
Ye move through the ranks, recall
The stragglers, refresh the outworn,
Praise, re-inspire the brave.
Order, courage, return;
Eyes rekindling, and prayers,
Follow your steps as ye go.
Ye fill up the gaps in our files,
Strengthen the wavering line,
Stablish, continue our march,
On, to the bound of the waste,
On, to the City of God.
iv. The Sphere of Hope
1. “Hope that is seen is not hope.” The whole point of St. Paul’s argument in these two verses is that the attitude of hope, so distinctive of the Christian, implies that there is more in store for him than anything that is his already. And not only is this principle true with regard to the future life and things unseen, but it is supremely true with regard to a building up of character. For to whatever height of excellence men may attain, they will always see above them a vantage-ground which invites fresh effort.
The sphere of hope is “things not seen.” “Hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” Therefore a Christian’s real possession is not what he sees. Suppose God prospers him in this world and he has riches; let him be grateful, but let him confess that those are not his treasures. One hour with the Lord Jesus Christ will bring more satisfaction to the believer than the largest measure of wealth. Although he may have prospered in this world, the saint will ridicule the idea of making the world his portion. A thousand worlds with all the joy which they could yield are as nothing compared with our appointed inheritance. Our hope does not deal with trifles; she leaves the mice of the barn to the owls, and soars on eagle wings where nobler joys await her.
2. Now the greater part of our salvation belongs to the “things not seen.” “If, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” Our salvation is partly of the past, but more of the future. For with God there are no unfinished beginnings, no inadequate completions. He is not like the foolish builder, who, without counting the cost, lays foundations wide and deep, and cannot complete the stately tower for which the foundations were planned. When God has appointed Jesus Christ as the chief corner-stone, what will the superstructure be? We may meanwhile obscure the magnificence of His plan by the foolishness of our building. But though it be by the destruction of our work, His spiritual house shall be completed, of which apostles and prophets are the foundation, and victorious martyrs the pillars, and every stone a blameless saint. All this was before St. Paul’s mind when he wrote, “in hope were we saved.”
In ancient times when God delivered His people from the bondage of Egypt, what pledge did He give them? “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I WILL BE hath sent me unto you.” “I WILL BE,” that is the name by which God would be known. “I will be” what? It was for hope to fill it up. The promise was magnificent by its very vagueness. The children of Israel could fill it up in part by what they knew of God. “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” The promise of the name means that, and goes beyond it. The name is not “I AM,” a revelation of the self-sufficiency of God. It is “I WILL BE,” a promise of God’s inexhaustible sufficiency through the future for all His people’s need. And so it is now. This God of the “will be” of the future, is the God of our salvation.1 [Note: P. J. Maclagan.]
Something I may not win attracts me ever—
Something elusive, yet supremely fair;
Thrills me with gladness, yet contents me never,
Fills me with sadness, yet forbids despair.
It blossoms just beyond the paths I follow,
It shines beyond the farthest stars I see;
It echoes faint from ocean caverns hollow,
And from the land of dreams it beckons me.
It calls, and all my best, with joyful feeling,
Essays to reach it as I make reply;
I feel its sweetness o’er my spirit stealing,
Yet know ere I attain it I must die.
Waiting with Patience
1. What are we waiting for?—The first thing the Apostle mentions with respect to the goal of our Christian hope is that all things and all life shall be set in their proper places once for all. “Waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God.” The sons of God are hidden now, and the throne of glory has not been unveiled. Things are not in their right places. The light has been put under a bushel; the sun has been obscured. The true order of things has not been set in the light of heaven.
The whole passage preceding the text deals with the goal of our hope. There is one point, however, on which it is of utmost importance that we should be clear and allow no misconception to arise. St. Paul says we are “waiting for our adoption—the redemption of our body.” Now by this word “adoption” he does not mean our acceptance as the sons of God; nor does the “redemption” mean atonement through the precious blood of Christ; for both these are complete already. But they both mean the final deliverance of the children of God at the second coming of our blessed Saviour, when all God’s people shall be set free from every impediment, and, as adopted children, or as a chosen bride, shall be presented spotless, in perfect freedom before the throne of the Lord.
The traveller in an unknown land, who wishes to explore it, to know how it lies, what it contains, how far its forests and its plains extend, looks out for some mountain from the elevation of which he can best survey it. He climbs to one height, and it takes him clear of the wood, showing how the forest in the distance is bounded by a low range of hills. If he climbs to a higher point, he hopes to see what lies beyond that range. Patiently he toils up the slope, until he gains the desired outlook and beyond the low hills he sees a vast and verdant plain, through which a river flows shining in the sun. But still on the utmost verge his view is restricted by sloping downs, which seem to indicate the presence of the sea beyond. If he can climb to the summit, he hopes to see what now he surmises. In patience, then, he toils upward once more, hour after hour, until, standing on the mountain top, he sees all round the mighty expanse. The forest lies beneath, a dark olive patch; the low hills seem hardly distinguishable from the surrounding plain; the great river is a thin silver streak; and beyond lie stretches of moorland, valley, and grassy downs; and farther still, lies the open sea, like a polished shield, extending far away, until lost on the horizon. At each point, his hope of what he wished to see became reality; it was no longer hope; for what a man sees is not hope, but knowledge. But hope of wider knowledge spurred him on, and, in patience, he plodded upwards, waiting until the object of his new hope was reached. Then all that he had thought and surmised, all that he had toiled for, was accomplished.1 [Note: J. E. Manning.]
2. What is the value for the present life of this hopeful waiting?—“If we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” There are three tests of the value of a truth for this life. One is the bearing of its burdens; another is victory over our sins; the third is service for the Kingdom of God. Apply these three tests, and bring the Christian hope to bear upon them. Who can bear his burdens, the burdens of this lower life, its weariness, its monotony, its pain, its sorrows—who can bear them like the man who believes in the coming liberty of the glory of the children of God? “I reckon,” said the Apostle, “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” That faith makes every burden light. If we have that hope, we will bear our cross with a glad heart, and we will sing while bearing it: “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” And the weight of sorrow shall pass away for ever. And who will fight for purity in his own life and spirit like the man who believes that purity is ordained to determine the destiny of every created thing, like the man who believes that purity means ultimately unfathomable glory? That hope of glory will condemn the impure heart, will burn like a blazing fire in the bones of the man who does not keep his garments white. And the man with this hope will work with the most glowing enthusiasm. Who can work with such greatness of purpose, and might of heart, and strength of arm, as the man who believes in this glorious unfolding, who believes that man is destined for this wonderful central position in God’s new creation, and that this earth of ours, these men and women we see around us, may be sons of God, the dazzling centre of a new creation in a world of everlasting glory? And so this hope fills us with inspiration. For the way is bright before us, and vast shall be the unfoldings of the future.
There is a fine story told of Carlyle,—one welcomes anything about that great genius which tends to show him sympathetic with the Christian attitude, inclined towards the Christian faith. He was walking with the late Bishop Wilberforce in the grounds of a country mansion, and speaking of the death of Sterling, the associate and friend of both. “Bishop,” Carlyle said suddenly, “have you a creed?” “Yes,” was the answer of the other—fine in its own way too—“and what is more, the older I grow, the firmer that creed becomes under my feet. There is only one thing that staggers me.” “What is that?” asked Carlyle. “The slow progress that creed seems to make in the world.” Carlyle remained silent for a second or two, and then said slowly and seriously, “Ah! but if you have a creed, you can afford to wait!”1 [Note: W. A. Gray.]
As the bird trims her to the gale,
I trim myself to the storm of time,
I man the rudder, reef the sail,
Obey the voice at eve obeyed at prime:
“Lowly faithful, banish fear,
Eight onward drive unharmed;
The port, well worth the cruise, is near,
And every wave is charmed.”2 [Note: Emerson.]