HOPE IN THE PRESENT LIFE
That which a man ardently hopes for he strives to realize. If he desires fame, office or wealth he will seek to set forces in motion, here and now, which will bring him that which his soul covets. Back of every man's striving there is always some hope, an ideal, which he endeavours to make a reality.
The man who enthusiastically believes in Jesus Christ cherishes the hope that every man may be brought to believe in his Lord and Master (Acts 26:27-29). He wants to see Christ not only rule and reign in the life to come, but in this present life.
The urgency of the New Testament appeals to men is to, at once, believe in Jesus Christ, and to begin to live the Christian life (Acts 16:31-33; 2 Corinthians 6:1-10; Galatians 2:20). The attempt was made by the early preachers of Christianity to bring about upon the earth a new order of things. They prayed and laboured for the immediate conversion of men's souls and the betterment of the conditions under which men lived. A new kingdom (Matthew 10:32-42; Mark 1:14,15) was inaugurated with new ideals (Matthew 5:1-16), new principles and new aspirations, which was to supersede the old social and political orders. It was the preaching of this kingdom of Christ, and that men owed their first allegiance to it (Acts 5:28,29), which provoked the terrible persecutions of the first centuries.
Christianity has much to do with this present life, it has a panacea for all its ills and evils and it has a certain definite programme to carry out.
The Christian hopes and works for:
The Regeneration of the Individual through faith in Christ (John 3:5,14-21). This is an inward change wrought in the soul by the grace of God. While this is a work of God, the responsibility for it rests with man. God does not desire the death of the sinner. By the sending of Jesus Christ God has shown His love for man while yet a sinner. Every unregenerate man either does not desire this new life or else feels that he never sought with all his heart to have God regenerate his soul (John 5:40; 1:4; 5:24; Isaiah 1:18). The regenerate man in Christ thinks and acts from a new basis (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15). It is only as the love of a man's heart is really changed and centred upon right things that he can be depended upon to walk in right ways. A man may act right, may be honest and upright from prudential motives, but if his heart is evil the way of the righteous will be irksome to him and he may depart from it at any time. The unmasking of the double life of a man, every now and then, shows how the heart's desire will have its way with a man who does not love God. Heart faith in Christ leads a man to follow and be like Him.
Hence we have such a large emphasis placed upon work for and with the individual by Christ and His disciples. Christ Himself called His apostles to Him one by one and He was continually holding conversations of the deepest interest with individuals (John 3:1-13; 4:6-26).
The possibilities of the work of the individual Christian for the individual non-Christian man are too largely left untried. If every follower of Christ should try to win one, who did not follow Him, to His cause every year the good effects of such a campaign would be felt not only in the church, but in every department of life.
All true reform work must begin with the regeneration of the individual.
The Enlightenment of the Social Conscience. -- There is such a thing as a social conscience. It is possible to say and do things in certain communities which would not be tolerated in others. One town will not only sanction the liquor business within its boundaries but will resist all efforts to abolish it; another town right beside it will have none of this iniquitous traffic. Lawlessness and immorality find a hearty welcome in certain cities and in others they dare not show themselves. All this is due not to the perfection or the imperfection of the laws or to the large number or small number of men upon the police force, but to an evil, an apathetic or an enlightened social conscience.
The progress of the gospel of Christ is often hindered or prevented by a hostile public sentiment (Matthew 13:58; 17:20; 10:14; Luke 10:10-12). When Christ sent forth His twelve disciples He recognized the strong opposition which their message and mission would often meet and said, "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16). The disciples were taught to expect social ostracism and private and public persecution (Matthew 10:17-26). There were times when they were to flee before the gathering storm of opposition and there were times in which they were to maintain their position to the death, but even if they fled (Matthew 10:23) they were not to cease to preach the gospel.
It is the duty and the right of Christians not only to seek for the regeneration of individuals, but also to protest and work against social and political wrongs and to seek to create and strengthen a strong public Christian sentiment. The Church of Christ should be the conservator and promoter of high moral ideals in every city and town where it has a name and place and seek to extend its good influence into regions where it has no standing.
Better Conditions of Living. -- The Bible is always upon the side of the oppressed and down-trodden. No laws ever enacted by any nation ever made it so easy for the working man as the Mosaic ordinances; every seventh day (Exodus 20:9,10) was a day of rest; there were seven feasts in seven months which called for many other days of rest; every seventh year (Leviticus 25:2-7) was a rest year; and every fiftieth year (Leviticus 25:10-17) was one of rest and restitution. Christ everywhere championed the cause of the poor and the heavy burdened (Matthew 9:36; 11:28-30; 11:4,5).
But the Bible also clearly sets forth the fact that little can be done towards bettering even the material conditions of living when men's hearts are not right towards God. If a man lets the spirit of avarice reign over him, no matter how much money he may have he will still want more and he will not care whom he oppresses to get it. If the spirit of a purely worldly pleasure rules him his money will go into a bottomless pit and he will not care whom he makes suffer to get more money to gratify his insatiable desires.
Better material conditions of work and living can only come from the adoption of high moral and spiritual standards and in advocating these the Christian Church to-day is the truest friend of the oppressed.
The Maintenance of Law and Order. -- It is not an unusual thing for political parties to elect men to offices of trust and then to have these same men refuse to enforce the laws which they have sworn to uphold. In consequence we have all kinds of abuses and evils growing up in the body politic. Too often the political race is for the honour and the spoils of position.
Outside the political arena stands the Christian Church and it can, if it will, demand that clean and upright men, whatever the issues of the parties may be, be placed in nomination. Here Christians may hold the balance of power. If their loyalty is to Christ first of all they will vote for no man for any office who is known to be of an evil character. The maintenance of law and order depends in large measure, in any community, upon the Christian sentiment of that community.
The Turning of the World to Christ. -- The Christian's hope is that Christ may be Lord of and dominate the individual and the home life, the social, the business and the political worlds, as well as the ecclesiastical.
The worship of God in Christ ought not to be only upon a particular day or in a certain place, but upon all days and in every place men should lift up their hearts to Him (John 4:21-24). If He is Lord of all (John 1:1-14; 14:9-13) He should be Lord of all; there is no matter too small and none too great to bring before Him. When Christ said, "Go ye therefore and teach all nations ... teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19,20) He meant that His teachings should be dominant over all the earth and in every department of life. And for this we pray "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). It is only as this kingdom shall come in power that we can expect to better the conditions under which men live and work.
HOPE IN THE FUTURE LIFE
Christianity is not small in its anticipations, its desires, its aspirations and its plans.
It speaks of a large hope for the future, so large that many men fail to comprehend its magnificence (John 11:23-26; Mark 16:11). It declares that while the body may be placed in the grave, the real man never dies. Man in all that he thinks and does lives with two worlds plainly in view, the one that now is and the one which is to come.
The disciples immediately after the ascension of Christ began to preach and teach the resurrection from the dead (Acts 2:30-32; 3:15; 4:10,33; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8). They used this fact of the resurrection as a reason for the belief in Christ as the Saviour of men, a forsaking of sin and an incentive to a life of righteousness. They taught, as Jesus Himself did, that this life, no matter how great its opportunities, was but the vestibule to a new and larger life beyond the grave. It is better to sacrifice everything in this life, if necessary, rather than to miss the glory of the life to come (Matthew 5:29; 10:28; Mark 9:47). No good deed done in this life, in the name of Christ, can fail of large reward in the life to come (Matthew 19:28,29; 25:34-40). By this emphasis, which was laid upon the future life, the horizon of thought and action was marvellously widened. Men were taught no longer that they were to exist for a few years and then go out forever into the darkness of annihilation, good and bad alike, but that they were to live forever.
Conscious Personal Existence of the soul after death. This fact is conspicuously taught in the Gospels, the Acts, the Epistles and Revelation. In the world to come people are not shades or ghosts, but they have certain bodies (1 Corinthians 15:44), they know themselves to be and are known as the same persons who once lived on the earth (Matthew 17:2-4; Luke 24:36-48; John 20:24-28; 11:25,26; Luke 16:19-31; 23:42,43). Christ said, "But as touching the resurrection of the dead have ye not read, that which was spoken unto you by God saying, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but the living" (Matthew 22: 31,32).
Eternal Citizenship in heaven. The aim of Christianity is to make men righteous. The abode of the blessed hereafter is one wherein dwells holiness, purity and truth.
There are conditions and hindrances to the entering of the abode of the blessed.
1. Conditions. The great prerequisite to entering into the joy of heaven is righteousness, perfect obedience to the law of God. But every man of himself, when he enters into an honest self-examination, feels that he comes far short of the perfect keeping of the divine commands (1 John 1:8,9; Romans 3:23). He needs forgiveness for past disobedience, he needs help to lead a righteous life. Hence Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, came that through His life and death we might receive pardon for past sin and help to live the righteous life (John 3:16-23). What man could not do for himself Jesus Christ does for him (Romans 3:20-26). The disciples of Christ were rightly enthusiastic in proclaiming Him as the propitiation for man's sin and belief in Him, with all that it implied, as the entrance gate into the heavenly life. Jesus said of Himself, "I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me" (John 14:6). "In My Father's house are many mansions if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:2,3).
2. Hindrances. The great hindrance to the entering of heaven is disobedience of God, not only acts of disobedience but a state of disobedience, where the soul of man desires to have no fellowship with God or His righteousness. There is a disobedience of God through carelessness, through ignorance and through willfulness; there is little hope for a man when he deliberately turns his back upon God. It is wonderfully shown in the Bible how God has sought to make Himself known to man and to save him here and hereafter. Every possible appeal has been made to man to turn to God. The Scriptures give no answer of hope for a happy hereafter for those who deliberately reject all of God's invitations and pleadings in this world (Matthew 25:46; Daniel 12:2; John 5:29; Romans 2:1-6).
The Glory of Heaven. -- The New Testament writers vie with each other in striving to make plain the glory of heaven. John describes it, in a vision, as a magnificent city of gold and precious stones, wherein can come no evil thing (Revelation, chapters 21,22). "And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their honour and glory into it" (Revelation 21:23,24). The real glory of heaven, however, is not in its outward adornment or pageantry, but in the triumph of righteousness and the supreme reward of constancy to the truth of God (Revelation 7:9-17). The holiness of God is vindicated (Revelation 4:8,9). "The tabernacle of God is with men" (Revelation 21:3,4), and every good deed stands out glorified in the clear white light of eternity. Every saint in heaven will feel that he has the hundredfold reward for all the sacrifices he made when upon the earth for the kingdom of God.
The effort of the New Testament writers is to make the followers of Christ joyfully do their work here, much of which may be distasteful and difficult. "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). It is worth while to work for a limited future earthly reward; it is much more worth while to work for a heavenly reward which shall endure throughout eternity.
What can be said of the Christian's hope in the present life? What is the regeneration of the individual through faith in Christ? What is meant by the enlightenment of the social conscience? How can better conditions of living be secured through Christ? How can law and order be maintained through the advancement of Christian principles? What is the Christian's hope in turning the world to Christ? What is the Christian's hope in the future life? What is meant by conscious personal existence after death, eternal citizenship, the glory of heaven?