For whatever things were written aforetime were written for our learning…
There is a river in Switzerland fed by two uniting streams, bearing the same name, one of them called the "white," one of them the "grey," or dark. One comes down from the glaciers, and bears the half-melted snow in its white ripple; the other flows through a lovely valley, and is discoloured by its earth. They unite in one common current. So in these two verses (4 and 13) we have two streams, a white and a black, and they both blend together and flow out into a common hope. So both halves of the possible human experience are meant to end in, the same blessed result.
I. We have, first of all, THE HOPE THAT IS THE CHILD OF THE NIGHT, and born in the dark. "Whatsoever things," says the apostle, "were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we, through patience" — or rather the brave perseverance — "and consolation" — or rather, perhaps, encouragement — "of the Scriptures might have hope." The written word is conceived for the source of patient endurance which acts as well as suffers. This grace Scripture works in us through the encouragement which it ministers in manifold ways, and the result of both is hope. So, you see, our sorrows and difficulties are not connected with, nor do they issue in, bright hopefulness, except by reason of this connecting link. We cannot pass from the black frowning cliffs on one side of the gorge to the sunny tablelands on the other without a bridge — and the bridge for a poor soul from the blackness of sorrow to the smiling pastures of hope, with all their half-open blossoms, is builded in that book, which tells us the meaning and purpose of them all, and is full of the histories of those who have overcome, have hoped and not been ashamed. Scripture is given, among other reasons, that it may encourage us:, and so may produce in us this great grace of active patience, if we may call it so. The first thing to notice, then, is how Scripture gives encouragement — for such, rather than consolation, is the meaning of the word. It seeks to make us strong and brave to face and to master our sorrows, and to infuse into us a high-hearted courage. It would be a poor aim to comfort only; but to encourage — to make strong in heart, resolved in will, and incapable of being crushed in spirit by any sorrows — that is a purpose worthy of the Book, and of the God who speaks through it. This purpose, we may say, is effected by Scripture in two ways. It encourages us by its records, and by its revelation of principles. Who can tell how many struggling souls have taken heart again as they pondered over the sweet stories of sorrow subdued which stud its pages, like stars in its firmament? We are all enough of children to be more affected by the living examples than by dissertations however true. But Scripture has another method of ministering encouragement to our often fainting heart. It cuts down through all the complications of human affairs, and lays bare the innermost motive power. It not only shows us in its narratives the working of sorrow and the power of faith, but it distinctly lays down the source and the purpose, the whence and the whither of all suffering. They all come from my Father, and they all come for my good. With that double certitude clear before us, we can face anything. The slings and arrows that strike are no more flung blindly by an "outrageous fortune," but each bear an inscription, like the fabled bolts, which tells what hand drew the bow, and they come with His love. Then, further, the courage thus born of the Scriptures produces another grand thing — patience, or rather perseverance. It is something to endure, and even while the heart is breaking, to submit unmurmuring; but, transcendent as it is, it is but half of the lesson which we have to learn and to put in practice. For if all our sorrows have a disciplinary purpose, we shall not have received them aright unless we have tried to make that purpose effectual by appropriating whatsoever spiritual teaching: they each have for us. Nor does our duty stop there. It is that dogged persistence in plain duty, that tenacious continuance in our course, which is here set forth as the result of the encouragement which Scripture gives. Many of us have all our strength exhausted in mere endurance, and have let obvious duties slip from our hands, as if we had done all that we could do when we had forced ourselves to submit. Submission would come easier if you took up some of those neglected duties, and you would be stronger for patience if you used more of your strength for service. Take the encouragement which Scripture gives, that it may animate you to bate no jot of heart or hope, but still bear up and steer right onward. And let the Scripture directly minister to you perseverance as well as indirectly supply it through the encouragement which it gives. It teaches us a solemn scorn of ills. It summons us to diligence by the visions of the prize, and glimpses of the dread fate of the slothful, by all that is blessed in hope and terrible in foreboding, by appeals to an enlightened self-regard, and by authoritative commands to conscience, by the pattern of the Master, and by the tender motives of love to Him to which He Himself has given voice. All these call on us to be followers of them who, through faith and perseverance, inherit the promises. But we have yet another step to take. These two, the encouragement and perseverance produced by the right use of Scripture, will lead to hope. The lion once slain houses a swarm of bees, who lay up honey in its carcase. If we can look back and say, "Thou hast been with me in six troubles," it is good logic to look forward and say, "and in seven Thou wilt not forsake me."
II. So much then for the genealogy of one form of the Christian hope. But we have also A HOPE THAT IS BORN OF THE DAY, the child of sunshine and gladness. "The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope." So then "the darkness and the light are both alike" to our hope, in so far as each may become the occasion for its exercise. We have seen that the bridge by which sorrow led to hope was perseverance and courage; in this second analysis of the origin of hope, joy and peace are the bridge by which faith passes over into it. Paul has found, and if we only put it to the proof we shall also find, that the simple exercise of simple faith fills the soul with "all joy and peace." Gladness in all its variety, and in full measure, calm repose in every kind, and abundant in its still depth, will pour into my heart as water does into a vessel, on condition of my taking away the barrier and opening my heart through faith. "Trust and thou shalt be glad." In the measure of thy trust shall be the measure of thy joy and peace. Notice, further, how indissolubly connected the present exercise of faith is with the present experience of joy and peace. It is only while we are looking to Jesus that we can expect to have joy and peace. There is no flashing light on the surface of the mirror, but when it is turned full to the sun. Any interruption in the electric current is registered accurately by an interruption in the continuous line, perforated on the telegraph-ribbon; and so every diversion of heart and faith from Jesus Christ is recorded by the fading of the sunshine out of the heart, and the silencing of all the song-birds. Always believe and you will always be glad and calm. Observe, again, how accurately the apostle defines for us the conditions on which Christian experience would be joyful and tranquil. It is "in believing," not in certain other exercises of mind, that these blessings are to be realised. And the forgetfulness of that plain fact leads to many good people's religion being very much more gloomy and disturbed than God meant it to be. For a large part of it consists in sadly proving their spiritual state, and gazing at their failures and imperfections. There is nothing cheerful and tranquillising in grubbing among the evils of your own heart, and it is quite possible to do that too much and too exclusively. Then, the second step in this tracing of the origin of the hope which has the brighter source, is the consideration that the joy and peace which spring from faith, in their turn produce that confident anticipation of future and progressive good. Herein lies the distinguishing blessedness of the Christian joy and peace, and that they carry in themselves the pledge of their own eternity. It is not true of this gladness that "Hereof cometh in the end despondency and madness," but its destiny is to "remain" as long as the soul in which it unfolds shall exist, and "to be full" as long as the source from which it flows does not run dry. So that the more we experience the present blessedness, which faith in Christ brings us, the more shall we be sure that nothing in the future, either in or beyond time, can put an end to it; and hence a hope that looks with confident eyes across the gorge of death to the "shining tablelands" on the other side, and is as calm as certitude, shall be ours. I saw, not long since, in a wood a mass of blue wild hyacinths, that looked like a little bit of heaven dropped down upon earth. You and I may have such a tiny bit of heaven itself lying amidst all the tangle of our lives, if only we put our trust in Christ, and so get into our hearts some little portion of that joy that is unspeakable, and that peace that passeth understanding.
(A. Maclaren, D.D.) .
Parallel VersesKJV: For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.