Let me briefly remind you of the context in which this verse stands. The Apostle is inculcating upon his Ephesian brethren, that spirit which it becomes those to have who are united to the Lord Jesus Christ, and who are members of His mystical body; the argument which he uses for this fellowship and Christian sympathy, is the unity of the Church of Christ. He shows that there is an identity of interest, an identity of experience, an identity of privilege in the whole Church of God; that it is one--that however the Lord's people may be scattered abroad through the world, one here and another there, God, from the beginning, saw them, choose them, and lodged them in the safe keeping of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, in the everlasting covenant of mercy. He passed over other of His intelligent creatures, and viewed them specially, as members of the Lord Jesus, one with Him, from everlasting, in purpose, and one with Him, in time, by the uniting bond of the Holy Ghost. The subject that engaged our consideration for the last two Lord's Days was the view of the Church of God which is presented to us in this verse. We spoke of the Church as one body, composed of different members, having their various adaptations and uses. We then considered the spirit that animates the whole Church. Every child of God is born of the Holy Ghost, and lives by the continual influences of the Holy Ghost on his soul; not only at the first, in quickening him from his death in trespasses and sins, but afterwards, nourishing and cherishing his soul by the continual outflowing of life from the Lord Jesus Christ.
We spoke on last Sabbath of the identity of the calling of all the people of God; and we told you that this was a practical subject. We do not want hollow professors--mere sounding brass. Every member of the mystical body of Christ is called in time, by the power of the Holy Ghost, to come out from an evil world, and to be a witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. We care nothing for profession, if the reality of this calling is not manifested in the life. There is one calling of the Holy Ghost by which the sinner is brought "from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God." There is such a thing as a man being "born again," "born of God," "having passed from death unto life." These are Scripture expressions, and they show what a mighty power is at work in bringing sinners into the fellowship of the body of Christ.
It remains for us to speak of the last particular, with respect to the identity and unity of this body. It has one hope. There is one universal spring that moves, animates, and elevates the whole Church of God; all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ have one hope.
We would have you remember, brethren--unpalatable as it is to bring these things before a mixed congregation--we would have you remember that what we have to speak of is the exclusive and peculiar privilege and experience of the people of God. Shall I put it in words that may, perhaps, seem more hard and severe, but they are words of truth?--If a man be not in Christ, he has "not hope," and he is "without God in the world." So my Bible teaches me in the 2nd chapter of this Epistle, 12 verse. The Apostle there reminds his Ephesian brethren of their former dark condition when they knew not Christ: he says--"At that time ye were without Christ;" and then he enumerates in the train of evils that followed that alienation from God, "having no hope."
That of which we have now to speak is, the experience and privilege of God's believing people. And as a little sketch, I will not call it definition, of what I understand by Christian hope, I would say that it presents the believer as one who stands upon the solid rock of assurance, because God is true to His promise, and who is enabled, from the solid resting-place on which he stands, to look into the vast expanse of future covenant blessing, given to the Lord's people by words of promise, and enjoyed by the Lord's people through the power of the Holy Ghost.
I desire to speak as one who is looking up to the Holy Ghost to do these wonderful things in the souls of men. I desire that we should all have large thoughts of the Lord's dealings with His people, and that that expanse of anticipated, promised good, should come before our minds largely, that we should be able to take in the great things which the Lord has reserved for His people. I love to contemplate the children of God when brought into the bright sunshine of privilege; I love to look at Abraham when God begins to open out to him the light of promise; He makes him look at the vast creation around him, and when He would promise him a numerous posterity, he bids him look toward heaven, and tell the stars if he were able to number them; as much as to say, Read in them my power. Again, He tells him to walk through the length and breadth of the vast territory before him, east, west, north, and south; and He says, "All this will I give to thee and to thy seed for ever." This is the way in which God speaks, And, brethren, we come down from the high privilege which we ought to enjoy, to narrow and inadequate expectations of God's exceeding mercy, when we do not take in the largest, the fullest, the richest expectations of God's exceeding covenant mercy to His believing people.
When we speak of the hope that Scripture presents as the exclusive privilege and experience of the Lord's people, you will tell me, perhaps, that hope is the very elasticity and energy of every man's breast; you will tell me that it is the very life of the human mind; that there is not a man who in the ordinary affairs of life is not animated by hope; that there is not an individual under the pressure of incumbent sorrow who is not able to rise above it by the natural feeling of the hope that is within his breast; ay, we acknowledge it, hope is the very principle to animate a man in the things of time; but we speak of the things of eternity. You will meet me again, and say, that man has hope here too. Ay, but we shall show you the difference between a believing hope and a hope that is cherished in ignorance, and that grows out of ignorance. Hope as to spiritual things in a man who knows not Christ is a hope that lives by ignorance, it is a desperate illusion, for it does not make the soul conversant with realities, and you will find it to be as the hypocrite's trust is described in the 8th of Job--a "spider's web," a poor, brittle thing, Such hope must perish; it snaps asunder at the moment the man wants to use it, and leaves him there, the victim of despair.
Our subject today leads us to speak of the peculiar hope of the Lord's people. I would desire to look at the subject in these two points of view:--
FIRST, the energetic, spiritual, animating, living principle of hope in a believer's breast, and the actings of it.
SECONDLY, the object of hope--what it is the believer hopes for.
We would impress it upon you, brethren, that there is no genuine hope but that which stands in intimate connection with Gospel truth received into the soul by believing. If you turn to the 15th of Romans and 13th verse, you are told what the Apostle sought for the people whom he addressed; he says, "Now the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace," mark! "in believing, that ye may abound in hope." The foundation of this hope is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ revealed in the Gospel, which is what I just now called Gospel truth. It is receiving the testimony which God has giving of His Son, as you have it in the 1st Epistle of Peter, 1st chapter and third verse, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which, according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." In the 1st chapter of 1st Timothy and 1st verse, Christ is called "our Hope." In the Colossians 1, the Apostle speaks of "Christ in you, the Hope of glory." (Col. 1:27) It is impossible for a man to have genuine; intelligent, solid, abiding hope, unless his conscience is sprinkled with the blood of Jesus, unless he has a consciousness of being righteous before God, in the righteousness which God provides for His people, unless he has an apprehension of the intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ; for this is what I understand by that word in the 1st Epistle of Peter--"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which, according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." Unless there is a realizing of Him who has gone within the veil, and who is there transacting business for His own family as their righteous Representative--unless there is an apprehension of all this, there can be no living hope.
And then there is the earnest of all this in the breast of every man of God. Brethren, these are not matters of theory. The believer in the Lord Jesus Christ ought to know that the blood of Jesus has cleansed, and does cleanse him, at all times, from all sin. I cannot in the same breath say that a man is a believer and an unbeliever. I cannot understand a man telling me that he believes the Gospel, and yet he does not know whether he is to take the blessings which the Gospel proclaims. Put these two things together; they are as directly opposed the one to the other as fire and water. We desire, brethren, that God may give you such a view of believing that you may see that the child of God ought at all times to lay hold on the promises of God, exposed though he may be to the charge of arrogance of presumption. If God tells me there is redemption through Christ, I believe it. If God tells me that "the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin," I believe God. And am I to say, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses me from all sin," and in the next breath that I do not know whether I have the pardon of sins, or whether I am God's child at all? Are these things so, brethren? What a poor, what a miserable hope that must be which is based upon such doubts! A man comes into the presence of God and stretches out his hand, and asks for large blessings to descend upon him, and then he goes away tottering, faltering, doubting whether he has received anything at the hands of God. Is this faith? We say, the essence, the spring, the basis of Christian hope is believing what God has said: it is having the conscience sprinkled with the blood of Jesus; it is coming into the presence of that God "who is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and who cannot look on iniquity," as His righteous people, believing that we have an Advocate with the Father, and that not one of His people, the members of His mystical body, can be plucked out of His hands, unless He were to be hurled from the right hand of God. All this, and nothing less than this, I call Christian hope. I cannot dishonor God, nor would I have you dishonor God by saying when there is such an opening out of the glory and majesty of Christ as having fulfilled His covenant engagement, when there is such a revelation of the vast things which He has done for His Church, that we are, after all, to doubt whether He is able and willing to do what he has promised, or whether this Book may not be, after all, a fable.
We say, the Spirit is the earnest of this in the breasts of God's people; it is a matter of experience; as we told you on last Sabbath, If you believe, you must know it. It is because of the books that are so widely circulated, it is because of all the perplexing, entangling things that are thrown upon the truth of God in the present day, that the Lord's poor people are often kept so low; they take their views and their interpretations from human sources, instead of looking into the plain Book of God. Brethren, I would not give anything for the religion of that man who could not stand upon God's plain truth, if all the books in the world were opposed to him. We want to hear you saying, God speaks, and I am not to fear, and doubt, and be without hope, because great authorities say such and such things. Brethren, look up for the teaching of the Holy Ghost to have God's Word opened out to you in all its plainness. Stand upon the simple truth of God, if all the world should be against you.
Again, this hope of the Lord's people is something more than a wish--a desire. It is a sure expectation of a promised good. I cannot lower it--it is not a wish, a desire--a little stimulant from the excitement of chance. This is to be found to a greater or lesser extent in the breast of every man. You will not meet with an individual who will plainly tell you that he wants to go to hell. No: he would rather be saved; he is not yet landed in the dark element of despair, and therefore he takes shelter in that spider's web that he spins for himself--a poor brittle thing! And I believe, at the last, when his thread of life seems ready to snap asunder; when the realities of an unseen world are opening to his view; it you could at that moment extinguish the dim taper of a wish, a guess, a chance, a possibility; that man's bosom would be a very hell. This is the character of hell--despair. There is nothing there but the blackness of darkness. It is called "the bottomless pit"--deeper and deeper, and deeper still; all darkness to which there seems to be no end.
We want to show you, brethren, that the believer's hope is a better hope than this; something more than a mere wish or desire; it has to do with realities--certainties. I love such a sketch of hope as that which is given in the 6th chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, where the Apostle takes as it were a pillar--a solid pillar--on which the hope of the Church of God should rest. He rears it up, and he says, there is God's oath. He takes another pillar, and he rears it up, and he says, there is God's promise, and when he has established these mighty pillars, then he says, "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." Then, again, he presents this hope as "An anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast." He does not come before the Christian, and present it to him as if it were a matter to be today strong, and tomorrow weak; he does not tell of the ebbings and flowings of the promises of the God of truth, but he presents to the believing soul solid security; he says, "Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast." And as if to put it out of the reach of present circumstances, and all the nether things of time, he adds, "Which entereth into that within the veil, whither the Forerunner is for us entered." He seems to bring every argument which it is possible for the mind of man, under the mighty teaching of the Holy Ghost, to conceive, in order to show the security of the people of God. Hope, if it be a good hope, must be conversant with truth, with realities, with the certainties of God's Word. Therefore does the Apostle say, "We rejoice in hope of the glory of God," "Which hope maketh not ashamed." In the Colossians 1, he calls it, "The hope which is laid up for you in heaven."
Let us say another word as to this hope. We have told you something of its nature--what it does, how it actuates the breast of the believer; and we would now remind you, that it is a grace of the Holy Ghost; as much a grace, a gift--a created, an inwrought, and a divinely implanted principle, as faith, love, joy, or anything which Scripture points out as the creation of the Holy Ghost in the heart of man. Why do we bring this before you? Because we want the people of God to look to the source of their hope. It is because we often look upon it as the manufacture of our own efforts that we sink and droop. We should rather look up and say, Hope is the creation of God Himself in the souls of His believing people; therefore we look to Him to sustain His own creature, to nourish the plant of His own planting; we expect Him to fan that spark into a large flame by His Spirit. Dear brethren, this is a subject which is too little thought of. In the 13th verse of the 15th of Romans--a passage to which I have already referred, though I did not quote the latter words of it, because I wanted to reserve them for this part of the subject--the Apostle say: "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost." In the 12th of Romans the Apostle speaks of "rejoicing in hope." There is no rejoicing in that which is not a certainty--a reality to the soul. There must be a realizing of what God says; there can be no rejoicing in that which is only a guess or a conjecture.
We must now speak of the object of this hope. What does the believer hope for? What is that of which the child of God ought to have large expectations? I can only tell you what God has said; and I would now take you to a large expanse of blessedness which the Lord has laid up for his believing people. I would refer you to two passages upon this subject; one in the Old, and another in the New Testament. They are but specimens of a large class of the encouraging words of Scripture, which show what God has done, and what we are to look to Him to do for His believing people.
In the 40th Psalm, 5th verse, you read this word--"Many, O Lord my God, are Thy wonderful works which Thou hast done, and Thy thoughts which are to us-ward; they cannot be reckoned up in order unto Thee; if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered." Brethren, it would be impossible for me with all the paraphrase which I might be capable of, with all the attempt of translation which I might exercise; it would be impossible, I say, for me to give you the force of these expressions in the original language. I can only tell you that they present the most elaborate arrangement, the deepest contrivance of plan; and when we remember that it is the Divine mind that is engaged in this, it seems as if the whole wisdom of God were poured into this plan of doing good to His dear people. Again, when the Psalmist says, "They cannot be reckoned up in order unto Thee," it seems as if all this were such an extraordinary, complicated, elaborate piece of machinery, all the parts of which are working together for good to God's people, that it is impossible for the finite mind of man to go into all the elaborate departments of contrivance of God, the infinite. And then, when it says, "If I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered," the word in the original expresses that which is so strong that it cannot be grappled with. A vast subject this, brethren--How can the mind of man grasp it? And all this, remember, is for God's people. If you were to ask me what do I hope for? I would say, All that a covenant Jehovah, Father, Son, and Spirit, with all the energy of the Divine mind, could contrive and plan for the good of God's believing people. Such is my hope.
Again, in the 2nd chapter of 1st Corinthians, I find this word--"Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him." I love to find God at that work that we would say belonged to a finite creature, preparation; as if God needed to prepare for His people. It is the word that the Holy Ghost condescends to use; and it gives us some little conception of what God does for His people--"The things which God hath prepared for them that love Him." Such is the view that is presented of what the believer is to hope for; and all this is laid up in the everlasting covenant; as if--we are obliged to speak after the manner of men--as if there were a covenant arrangement, plan, and scheme, for every, the poorest, the weakest of God's people, who were seen from all eternity, not as having anything of worth in themselves, but as members of the mystical body of Christ; therefore are they loved with an intensity of love, of which we can no more conceive than we can conceive of the infinite God. This just gives us a little idea of the hope of the Christian.
We want to show you that this hope is a good thing now. The child of God has this hope as he goes on his pilgrimage. Many a cloud may throw its darkness across his path, but hope can gild the very darkest of those clouds; it can refresh the poor parched spirit in many a season of outward pressure, trial, and difficulty; it can sustain the Lord's people through the present time-scene; it shall accompany them through all the vicissitudes of life--it shall never leave them, for it is a grace which is implanted in their souls by the Holy Ghost.
And this hope it is that furnishes sweet arguments to the Lord's people in the hour of sympathy; in their relative intercourse the one with the other, when they would put forth their poor hand to wipe away the tear from the cheek of some distressed brother or sister in the family of God, it is hope that nerves the arm and enables it to do that tender office; it is hope that furnishes us with the consoling argument, that these poor, trying things are passing rapidly away, and that there are better days in store for the Lord's people.
Again, it follows and accompanies all the Lord's people to the verge of their pilgrimage. And here, one loves to look at Him who went before us in this path, and who knew sometime of hope too. In the 12th of Hebrews, when the Apostle tells us to fix the eye on Him, endured the cross, despising the shame." This shows us that there was hope in the breast of Jesus. Though he suffered, yet there was something that enabled Him to look above and beyond these things, to the joy that was set before Him.
But, again, we must take another precious view as to this hope of the Lord Jesus. When he seemed crushed under the weight of imputed curse--when he lay entombed in the grave, then the word, prophetically spoken of Him in the Old Testament, and historically applied to Him in the New Testament, is this, "My flesh shall rest in hope." Though His body was entombed in that grave, it did rest in hope. This is a precious thought to the believing soul.
Brethren, I am speaking to you of realities, certainties. I want to bring before your minds that the believer does not deal with merely negative good. What a poor thing it would be to look at the grave as the accomplishment of all our hope! What a poor thing it would be, great as it may be among the items of good to God's people, yet what a poor thing it would be if the accomplishment of their hopes should be of this negative kind, that they should have no more conflict, no more temptations, nor even, no more sin. It is true that this is a blessed anticipation, but Scripture teaches me of more than this; it does not merely show me the believer landed in the grave, and there covered over with negative ease, free from the pressure of outward evil and inward sin. Scripture teaches me to look for more blessed things, gives me more blessed anticipations, leads me to deal with the things hoped for, as a substance, carries me beyond the poor things of time, and enables me, when hope is strong within me, by the power of the Holy Ghost, to beat down the barrier between visible and invisible things; it is to me what faith is--"the evidence of things not seen." It goes into the realization of kingdoms, crowns, and glory everlasting.
It is this hope that has seemed to remove the curtains from the bed, the ceiling off the room, the very roof off the house, when it has given to the soul large views of what Scripture says. It is hope that has enabled the Lord's child through all the circumstances that seem as though they would darken his view of Christ, to see Him with the eye of faith, as it says in that beautiful passage in the 1st of 2nd Thessalonians, "When He shall come to be glorified in his saints and to be admired in all them that believe." "To be glorified in His saints," the very thing He died to His Father. "I have glorified Thee on the earth." And He shall be glorified in His saints. There is hope--these are the bright anticipations of hope.
O, what a subject is this Christian hope! It embraces everything for time; it accompanies the child of God all his journey through; it gilds every dark cloud; it removes every barrier that separates visible from invisible things; it brings the believer into the present realization of good things. Here is something more than guess or chance, probability or contingency; and all this as sure to the believer as if he were to find the whole fabric of creation crashing around him, and the Lord Himself coming in the clouds of glory.
Brethren, this is a practical subject for us all to consider. We would ask, Can everyone in this congregation enter into these things? Can you say, I have an interest in all that of which you have been speaking--all these things are mine? I should rejoice to hear you say it, brethren; I should not point my finger at you, nor should I join in the cry of an evil world, and say, You are presumptuous and arrogant to dare to tell me so. No, but I should ask you, Why have you an interest in these things? And if you tell me, It is because God is true to His promise, because my Jesus is at the right hand of God, because the Holy Ghost has applied the truth of God to my heart, I should say to you, Rejoice--do not think little of the Spirit who has done such great thing for you.
But perhaps some of you may say, I have such conflict, such difficulty, there are so many things that tend to damage this hope. I say, Take care of that which damages not hope alone, but which damages every grace in a believer's breast--I mean, self-righteousness. The very moment anything comes between the finished work of Christ and your soul, the very moment you try to fit yourself to appear before God by your doings, your feelings, anything of your own, you damage your hope. It is when you go out of self, and when you see Christ to be all in all, that hope is lively. It is cherished by faith, it lives by faith, it stands only on the basis of faith. And it is a practical and influential grace also. Believing in the Lord, we have a hope which Scripture tells us "maketh not ashamed." The poor believer, as he goes on his way is invigorated by hope; it is this which cheers him as he passes through many things which tend to hurt and grieve him in his journey through this world. You remember that word of encouragement in the 42nd Psalm, where the Psalmist asks--"Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me?" Then does he add, "Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God."