Can I imagine this to be the language of a dying hypocrite, who finds all his hope fail, and with earth's prospects receding, the ground sinking beneath his feet, eternity opening to his view, and judgment depicted to his conscience, in anguish and despair exclaims--"Where is now my hope?" He has none; it has left him, when he most wants it.
Might I go to a more awful representation, and listen to the agonizing horrors of lost souls, who went to hell blindfold, (led on by blind guides in multitudes of instances), and who knew not their wreck, until they found themselves in the caverns of despair, and suddenly exclaiming in horror, which shall not cease to all eternity--"where is now my hope?" It is "the hope of the hypocrite," and it has "perished."
Shall I suppose the suggestion of my text to be experienced in the heart of a believing child of God, just finishing his career, just winding up his course, just ready to close his eyes to all that is terrene, and brought to the test, once for all to give a final testimony relative to his state and standing among all those that surround him? In answer to this enquiry, "where is now my hope"--with a smiling countenance, and gladdened heart, and rejoicing spirit, and a brilliant prospect of eternal bliss opening to his view, he would say--'O Lord, the Hope of Israel, Thou art mine: O Lord, the Hope of Israel, it is in Thee I trust; my hope is there, and it shall not make a precious soul ashamed.'
The language of my text, viewed literally, is beyond all doubt the language of distress, and the language of sinking sorrow in the nature of Job, when he appeared to be just bordering on the eternal world; but he recovers himself, and says--"I know that my Redeemer liveth" (Job 19:25)--"that is where his Hope was), "And that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth."
Now I want my hearers to come to this solemn enquiry, and to put it seriously home to themselves. "Where is now my hope?" Then, after I have dwelt upon the solemnity of the enquiry, I shall endeavor to exhibit to your view what is the experimental answer of the Christian to the question; and I shall then endeavor to set before you the eternal consequences connected with it.
1. "Where is now my hope?" Oh! beloved, let me urge your close, your serious, your prayerful attention to the point; for however firm or satisfactory it may be, or however it may reach even "the assurance of hope," it will do you no harm to probe it and try it. Weigh it, look it over, examine it in every point and corner, because a mistake is a fatal one; and therefore I beg of the Holy Ghost to enable me to speak as touchingly as possible, and you to hear with the closest and strictest scrutiny, and with the most decided faithfulness and honesty to your own souls. How solemn the question! If we for a moment keep in mind, that we are approaching our destiny, it is high time that we say--"Where is now my hope?" It is high time that we begin to investigate the enquiry, for a settlement, for decision, for certainty. I know very well that this is a matter of reproach in our day; and it falls to my lot to be continually sneered at and reproached in periodicals and pamphlets, and all sorts of things, about my confidence, but I bless God, that none of them have shaken it; I bless God, that none of them, with all their sneers and reproaches, have moved it for a single moment; and I shall be able to tell you, I trust, in the second head of discourse, where it is, and what it is. However these persons may sneer, and reproach, and revile at the idea of satisfaction, and assurance, and confidence, I know that nothing else can make a poor sinner happy; I know that nothing else will do for him when eternity is presented to his view. It is a very common thing with humanity, that whenever we have any little pain or ache, such as headache, or toothache--when ever there is anything in the system wrong or out of sorts, anything that at all affects our health, we begin immediately and spontaneously to think--'what! am I going to die? Well, this may be very serious; where is the Doctor? I begin to feel this, that, and the other.' Now the first thing with me, in this matter, is to think, that whenever I may terminate my career, all is right beyond; and when the soul comes to that point, it is surprising, (I cannot describe it: you must experience it to know it)--it is surprising with what a sacred calm, and heavenly satisfaction, and perfect indifference, as regards the results, the mind bears up in the midst of the acute pain and suffering, and heavy depression, and overwhelming affliction, that may sometimes lay poor nature prostrate. Now, "I speak what I do know."
"Where is now my hope?" In the prospect of approaching termination of life my hope is this: that God would give me strength to preach as long as I am upon earth (for I should not like to stay upon earth after I can no longer preach), and that He would give me an entrance into my eternal home. Now I could not describe to you, if I were to detain you for an hour, the solid peace, the supernatural bliss, the holy calm, the entire satisfaction and joy, which that hope gives to my soul day by day. I want my hearers to come to this. You are not all preachers; I suppose most of you are in business, engaged in worldly concerns, associated with a number of fellow mortals, passing through the wilderness in a variety of occupations; I will not take the trouble to ask what, and where; that is with you. Many of you have fathers and mothers, and brothers, and sisters, and other relations, dying all around you; and you must every now and then say,--'Well, I shall die some day; what is my death to be? Surely I shall not live upon earth for ever.' Now I want my hearers, especially my unthinking and unawakened hearers, who may at present not know the Lord--I want them seriously to ask, "Where," in approaching dissolution, in approaching departure from the wilderness, either from age, or affliction, or anything else--"Where is now my hope?" Do not tell me the ridiculous nonsense about your being as good as other people, and your not having done anybody any harm, and your being honest, and civil, and sober, and industrious; these are all very good things in their place, but they will not do for a "hope." Nobody prizes more than I do, in their proper place, industry, and honesty, and civility, and sobriety, and all the other features of moral excellence; they are very good in their place, and I wish we had more of them than we have; but believe me, beloved, they will not do for a hope--a hope for eternity.
In the prospect of everlasting realities, "Where is now your hope?" I am sure it should not be overlooked, if I thought there were any one present, who would say, in reply, as a lady said to me, when I asked such a question--"Oh! I do not concern myself about that, I go to Church, and make the responses, and leave all that with my priest." Oh! how awful, how terrific such stupidity, among even the educated classes of society! Is it not to be feared that there are thousands of precious souls, even in our country, thus deluded and benumbed under the bewitching and paralyzing influence of priestcraft? And will not the condemnation of the deceiver be greater than that of the deceived, when the Searcher of hearts shall bring every secret thing into judgment? Surely, such persons can never allow themselves to think of their eternal destiny; or they never could go on so carelessly or so wickedly on the precipice of destruction, with eternal death hanging upon every breath they draw! "Blinded by the god of this world," "Dead in trespasses and sins:" yea, stiffened with superstition, and buried in sensuality. But I want my hearers to come to the solemn question--"Where is now my hope?"
Let me lead on to another fact, in the solemnity of the question. There are not a few, who for a long time cherish legal hope; they hope to be better, and they hope to improve tomorrow, to say more prayers, and read more chapters, and do more good works, and commit fewer sins; but when tomorrow comes, all is worse and worse, and blacker and blacker, and if the Lord is at all at work within them, they begin to sink into despondency on account of it; all their legal hopes are destroyed, and their religion is cut off entirely. Ah! that is one of my favorite points of ministration; there is scarcely anything I delight in more, than in pulling people's religion to pieces. I like to break it in pieces with a hammer, to burn it with fire, and to cut it through and through with a sword; and all these are the work of the precious Book of God, for it is a hammer, and a fire, and a sword. I like nothing better than destroying people's religion out and out, because if it is a religion which man can destroy, it is better to be destroyed than possessed, for it will cheat and deceive them at the end; but when I come to use the hammer, and the fire, and the sword, instead of destroying that religion which comes from God, it always makes it brighter, and the souls of the Lord's family are thereby strengthened and encouraged. Therefore I want the point seriously investigated, in order that legal hopes may be destroyed, and legal expectations cut in pieces, and laid aside.
Now to illustrate what I mean, I pray you look for a moment to the often quoted character of Paul. He hoped to go to heaven when he was being brought up at the feet of Gamaliel. I can easily conceive to myself a most polite, gentlemanly man, well educated, with an affability of manners, interesting to everybody, very religious, exceedingly devout, always at the temple, with as broad a phylactery as any man, and with as long a robe; who said as many prayers, gave as many alms, did as much good, and I suppose if the societies which abound in our days were in existence, he would have become a member of them all. What a wonderfully excellent man! But it was all a false hope; and had he died previously to that journey to Damascus, (which was impossible) he would have gone to hell with all his excellencies. And yet mark the result; when he is brought to the feet of Jesus, and conquered by the Holy Ghost, he says,--"All these things I count as dross and dung;" he rejects them as something odious and offensive, to be despised and cast away,--so entirely has he been made to cast off his legal hopes. He thought he verily did God's service: in his own religion he excelled many of his equals: and yet this man had only a false hope. So there are thousands in these days, that pass for Christians, who have only a false hope, who have not the Lord Jehovah, the Hope of Israel, as their portion. Now when Saul of Tarsus had his legal hope destroyed, he was smitten down to the ground, and he asked the question very similar to that of my text--"Where is now my hope?" "Lord, what wouldest Thou have me to do?" Before, he thought he had done enough, ay, so much, that he verily thought he did God's service; but his first cry, at his conversion is,--"Who art Thou?" and "What wouldest Thou have me to do?" and away went all his legal hopes.
One word more on the solemnity of this question. Luke-warmness about it, is positively inexcusable. I will allow, in comparison with this, that you may be luke-warm about your business. I do not mean to advise this, but I will allow it, in comparison. I will allow you to be luke-warm about your personal comforts and ease. 'Oh! I cannot do that; I must have the comforts of life about me--plenty to eat and drink, and so on.' I will allow that, to some degree here. But luke-warmness about the soul, luke-warmness about eternal things, luke-warmness about prayer, about faith, about atonement, about justification, about sanctification, about acceptance, about your prospects for eternity, why, it is worse than madness. Luke-warmness respecting eternal matters? Why, it is derangement deranged; it is everything that is censurable. What! shall I take care of the covering of my feet, and disregard my feet? Shall I take care of the covering of my head, and disregard my head? Shall I take care of things that are of little or no value, and leave things of vast importance to reckless indifference? Amazing folly! Amazing recklessness! Amazing madness! and yet, although this is the fact, there are thousands and tens of thousands of intelligent beings, educated and well read persons, with scientific minds, and in every way externally and morally amiable and interesting, who positively live as if they had no soul at all, or as if there were no eternity. Oh! my hearers, this indifference, this carelessness, this recklessness about eternal realities, is absolutely inexcusable. "Therefore, thou art inexcusable, O man."
2. Having dwelt thus upon the solemnity of the question, let me go on at once to state the experimental answer which the Christian will give. "Where is now my hope?" How I thought, when the answer came before my mind in meditation--what can I say about others? I do not know how I can put this with satisfaction, otherwise than by just remarking what I would say to God, or to any godly person that should ask me the question. Suppose it were 'thy' instead of 'my,' and the question were proposed to me by one of you, or by anyone else--"Where is now thy hope?" I should try to answer it, as I would with the last gasp, with one foot on earth, and the other in heaven; and I think three things would be sufficient for my answer. I should say, I have a sacred pledge, and that encourages my hope, and points out where it is; I have efficacious blood and merit, that is all--sufficient for the worst of cases, and there I rest; and covenant securities have been revealed to my soul, which cannot fail, and there my hope finds its anchor hold. Now I should like, if time and strength would allow, to talk a quarter of an hour upon each of these particulars, but a few moments only must suffice.
Suppose I were asked the question; and it might be put either by God, by man, or by the devil. God may ask it in the Spirit's power of self-examination, and I would bless His name for it; man may ask it, to gratify a vain curiosity, and perhaps in the exercise of a tantalizing criticism: the devil may ask it in an hour of darkness and sore distress, in order to add despondency to my distress, and to cast me down. But I will meet them all, God helping me; and I will say, I have a sacred pledge, and that sacred pledge is the Spirit's testimony, operation, regenerating power, and quickening influence, and a Divine testimony of Christ experienced and enjoyed in my soul; and that sacred pledge I discover and know to be of God, and consequently my hope thus fixes itself. "Confident of this very thing, that He that hath begun a good work in me, will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ." There is my hope; I should not dare to go to other points without this; I should not dare to go to the claim and enjoyment of a precious Christ and covenant love, if I had not this sacred pledge, and therefore I have begun with it.
Now, how many of my hearers have this? How many of you can say--I have a sacred pledge of Divine work and favor in my soul; the Spirit of God has convinced me of sin, has shown me my ruin, has laid me in the dust, has given me repentance unto life, has brought home the keen letter of the law with power Divine to my conscience, has laid me low, stripped me of self, shown me my own ruin, brought me to discard all confidence in the flesh, and to seek salvation only in Christ?
But more than this: I have some spiritual joys, tokens of forgiveness, satisfactory tastes and enjoyments of spiritual blessing, sacred interviews with the Most High, in all the Persons of the blessed Trinity, both in private and in public; and I know this must be the Spirit of God at work in my soul, separating me from the world, and bringing me into a spiritual region. I pray you be particular here. My hope rests, not upon the enjoyments themselves, however I may have rejoiced in these different seasons; but it rests in the fact, that it was God's work, that it was the Spirit's operation, that the Holy Ghost, the third Person in the glorious Trinity, has set His seal upon me, and sought me out and conquered me by His power, and brought me to His footstool by a word, and done for me what none but God could do; and because of that my hope rests on Him; not merely in the pledge itself, but in Christ, who is the pledge, bringing me to discover, and see, and know, that had the Lord intended to destroy me, He would never have shown me such things as these.
Moreover, the Christian's experimental answer to the question--"Where is thy hope?" would be--in the effective blood of the atonement. There is my hope; I have no other. I cannot go to the stupidity and the wickedness of popery and popish priests, that call Mary "our only hope." It is the most devilish, damnable thing. To call the poor sinner Mary "our only hope," as the Pope has done. Why, it rang in my ears, as if it came from hell's bottom. It is so horrifying to the common sense of an immortal being, that I wonder how, with a God upon earth, such blasphemy be suffered to be belched out. But I come to the point, that my hope of acceptance, forgiveness, justification, sanctification and security, is in the blood of Christ, the precious atonement of the Son of God, the infinite merit which is found only in His Person. I look to Calvary, I look to Jesus, I look to the glorious Second Person of the blessed Trinity, and say--He is my only hope. He emphatically calls Himself "the hope of Israel." There is a very beautiful passage, which specially refers to Christ--"O The Hope of Israel, the Saviour thereof in time of trouble! Why shouldest Thou be as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night?" (Jer. 14:8) Referring to the shortness of His visits--the speedy removal of the comforts and enjoyments that His love affords. 'We want Thee night and day; we want Thy continual presence; and why only "tarry for a night, as a wayfaring man," as if Thou wouldest pass on again.' Now the hope of God's people centers there; and it is "as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast." (Heb. 6:19) No human being is safe for eternity, but the man or woman who is resting their entire dependence upon the atonement of Christ. If you forget all that I have said today, do not forget that.
Pass on, just to answer the question in the third sense. If I am asked, "Where is now thy hope?"--I answer, covenant love and covenant bonds have been revealed to my soul, in accordance with that sweet passage of promise--"The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant." (Ps. 25:14) And I trust He has shown it to you. It is my object, in almost every sermon, to exhibit it; and I trust the Lord has shown to your hearts, in the sacred pledges which the Holy Spirit's ministry and power effect in a sinner's heart, together with all the effect of atoning blood in matters of covenant enactments, covenant security, covenant arrangement, covenant oath, covenant settlement, that they all emanated from the covenant love of God our Father. You will observe, some of you that are accustomed to read that valuable book, "Hawker's Morning and Evening Portions," how frequently he insists upon the augmented value and glory of the personal work of Christ, in the fact of His being appointed in covenant council, and sent of the Father. This stamps validity and importance upon the whole of His work; and I rejoice to know, that we are not now left to consider the atoning blood of Christ and the work of Christ as promiscuous, contingent or uncertain matters. They did not spring from the sudden impulse of the creature, but they emanated from covenant love.
Now bear with me, beloved, while I clear my conscience with a little censoriousness. I cannot help it; God lays it upon my mind, and I must set it forth. It is to me a matter of sore distress, that many really good men, who say much that is valuable and excellent about the precious blood of Christ, and the efficacy of the atonement, and the Spirit's power and work, instead of tracing them to covenant securities and appointments, ascribe them to the poor, wretched, miserable notion of creature caprice. They say--'God is willing to save, and the Holy Ghost is willing to help, if you only begin; or if He has begun, if you only improve the grace given, and become faithful co-workers with Him." Now whenever I hear this, I feel myself at once transferred to Rome. My hearers, this is a deadly poison, which is being infused into the Churches of the living God. Come to scriptural truth, and to the standard doctrine of orthodoxy; and then, when the Holy Spirit has been at work in our hearts, and the efficacy of the blood of Christ has been by faith appropriated by us for our justification, all must be traced up to the covenant love of the Father, appointing, determining, giving, and bestowing all that belongs to the precious and perfect salvation that is in Christ Jesus.
Here, then, is my hope. I have supposed the question put to me in the second person, and have told you what my hope is.
3. But I would suppose myself looking forward yet a little further; I would dwell, for a moment or two, upon the eternal consequences of being able to give this experimental answer.
Upon this hangs the proof of our union with Christ, or our eternal separation from Him, in point of evidence. Here is the line of demarcation, the line of separation between the Church and the world, The soul that can make the reply I have just been giving, is in virtue, eternal, indissoluble union with Christ. But mark you, it must either be thus in union with Christ, or be separated from Him through all eternity. I look forward to the solemn period, when you and I shall meet at the judgment seat of Christ; I place myself in the position, which I confidently expect to occupy, among those of whom He shall smilingly and lovingly say to His Father--"Behold, I and the children whom Thou hast given Me." 'They are Mine; I have bought them, I have conquered them, I have recovered them, I have transformed them, I have clothed them, I have trained them, I have saved them.' And then I contrast these with the throng, that never placed their hope and confidence in Him--the throng that never knew their need of Him--the throng that lived and died rejecting Him; I watch the dismal melancholy brooding over their countenances: I see the awful frown, with which Jesus' countenance meets them, and wait in solemn silence and suspense, until His voice, like thunder, utters--"Depart!" "Depart, ye cursed." Their hope is the hope of the hypocrite; it is not the hope of Scripture; it is false and unfounded.
My hearers, think of the vast consequences, to which this hope extends. Do you think you will be able, in that day, to look Jesus in the face, and say with a smiling countenance,--'my hope was only in Thee; Thy work, Thy blood. Thy righteousness, was all my confidence. I knew myself vile, and deserving hell, but I trusted in what Thou has done and suffered, and hast recorded in Thy precious Word?' "Come in, ye blessed of My Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you." (Matt. 25:34) Oh! I sometimes think that "Come in" will be such a blissful sound, that it will more than compensate for all the trial that has been endured in this wilderness state.
Moreover, such are the eternal consequences of this experimental answer to the question, that riches or ruin must be the result. If time would allow, I should here go into a little illustration about the foolishness of many young persons, who plunge forth into matters of business speculation. 'Oh! but they hope so and so; and they hope this will turn out well, and they hope that will turn out well.' But it turns to their ruin; their's was not a well-grounded hope; and if they had consulted all the persons, with wiser heads--persons who knew a little about business, they would have told them--'Why, this is wrong, and that is wrong.' But no, they are headstrong, and they plunge away, and come to ruin at last; whereas the hope of a man who goes on in a business-like manner, and understands things, leads to riches. I give this illustration to show that the man, whose hope is in Christ, is secure of realizing, "the riches that are in glory by Christ Jesus," (so says my Bible), whereas the man who goes in a speculating way about religion, who builds his castles in the air, promising himself a hundred things for the creature to perform, that never does none of them--his hope turns to ruin. All the religion he supposed he had is destroyed; and in instances in which the grace of God does not take possession of the heart, it ends in infidelity and ruin.
Now I want my hearers to come to the point: will your hope end in riches or in ruin? It must end in one or the other; at the expiration of your career in the wilderness, you must either be put in possession of "the riches that are in glory"--crowns, thrones, harps, mansions, and all the blessings of eternal glory--or else ruin will be your everlasting doom. And mind, there is no recovery, if you once plunge into it, it is eternal ruin. All this may be decided by answering the question of the text--"Where is now my hope?" Is it wholly in Christ, or is it not? If it be not, it is ruin; if it be, it is "riches in glory by Him," to all eternity.
Just sum up the whole, by marking that eternal life or eternal death, hangs upon this question: "Where is now my hope?"
"Ere long the tongue, that now can often speak
The precious name of Jesus with delight;
Ere long the thoughts, that now can oft survey
The theme of covenant love with holy joy;
Ere long the heart, that now can beat its pulse,
With sacred prospects of eternal bliss,
Shall cease its throb, and know no more of earth."
"Where is now my hope?" 'Where now my satisfaction? Where now my property?' Riches fail; friends look with pitying eyes; medical aid is of no use; "Heart and flesh fail." Oh! who can say, "God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever?" Such an one looks forward to eternal life. If this be not the fact, there is nothing before a poor sinner but eternal death--a worm that never dies, and a fire that never ceases its devouring flame--reflection, surveying all that is past, and thinking of eternity to come; despair! Oh! who can understand the word despair? We think of it on earth, but we know it not. Despair is chained to the caverns of the damned! And shall my hearers trifle with the solemn prospect of this eternal lot? Eternal death, a languishing, expiring, dying, deathless existence beneath the wrath of God! O my God, can sinners be careless about such a doom? But take the contrast, beloved; take the brighter scene--eternal life. "He that believeth on the Son of God, hath eternal life."
"Break forth, ye spirits, cumbered with your clay,
Amidst the bonds that tie you down to earth:
Look out, look out; the vast expanse unfolds;
The thrones in view, and glory fills the soul.
Departing from this poor terrestrial frame;
And peace, and joy, and love, and bliss become
The portion of the soul that trusts in Christ."
"Where is now my hope?" See for yourselves what it is. Be not deceived; and if you have any doubt upon the matter, carry it to God before you sleep, and ask Him to settle it for you.
May the Eternal Spirit fasten these solemn enquiries upon the minds of all my hearers, and lead them to the sweet and precious conclusion, "The Lord Jehovah, the Hope of Israel, is my hope:" and then all is well, for time and for eternity. Amen.