How difficult, for the most part, it is, and we may add, how rare to be able to realize for ourselves, with any degree of abiding permanency, a sweet experimental sense of, and an assured interest in those spiritual blessings with which, so far as we are believers in the Son of God, we are blessed in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Glimpses, glances, transient views, sips and tastes, drops and crumbs, sweet beyond expression while they last, but rarely given and soon gone, are, generally speaking, all we seem to get after much hard labor, many cries, earnest entreaties, and vehement longings before the Lord, as he presents himself to our faith, seated on the throne of his grace. How many, for instance, there are among those whose eyes are now resting on these pages who are daily and sometimes almost hourly crying out, if not in the exact words, yet in the substance of them, "O come, much expected guest; Lord Jesus, quickly come!"
And yet how long he seems to delay his coming! How continually are they looking upward until eyes and heart seem alike to fail, waiting for his appearing more than those who watch for the morning; how willing to make any sacrifice, to do anything, be anything, or bear anything, if he would but manifest himself to their souls. How often are they searching and examining their hearts, lips, and lives, to see if there be any evil way in them which makes him hide his lovely face, and not drop one word into their longing bosoms, whereby they might hold sweet communion with him! How they desire to be blessed with real contrition of heart, and godly sorrow for their sins, and be melted and dissolved at his feet, under a sight and sense of his bleeding, dying love!
But whence spring all these longing looks and waiting expectations? Do not all these earnest desires and vehement longings show that those in whom they so continually are found are begotten again to a living hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? It is divine life in their souls which is the spring and source of these inward breathings, lookings, and longings; and this divine life arises out of a new and spiritual birth, which is itself the fruit of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is not the still-born child which cries; it is the cry of the living child which so goes to the heart of the mother. Thus the cries of which we have spoken show that there is life.
But with life, there is hope; for why would a man be ever crying after, waiting for, and anxiously expecting a blessing which he has no hope ever to obtain? If, then, these had no living hope, would they cry? There are no cries in a dead hope. It is because the grace of hope in their bosoms is, like every other grace of the Spirit, alive unto God, that it acts in union with faith and love, to bring them and keep them earnest, sincere, and unwearied before the throne, expecting and anticipating what God has promised to bestow on those who wait upon him.
We thus see in a living hope three things—1, An origin; 2, A foundation; 3, An object.
1. Its origin is a new and spiritual birth—"Being begotten again unto a living hope." 2. Its foundation is the sure promise of God—"Remember the word unto your servant, upon which you have caused me to hope." (Psalm 119:49.) 3. Its object is eternal life as revealed in Christ, and assured by the word of promise—"In hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began." (Titus 1:2.)
We see all these very clearly marked in the case of ABRAHAM, who is set before us in the word, as a pattern of hope as well as a pattern of faith. (Rom. 4:18; Heb. 6:15.)
1. What was the origin of Abraham's hope? A new and spiritual birth, of which he was made a partaker when specially called of God. (Gen. 12:1-3; Isa. 51:2; Heb. 11:8.) 2. What was its foundation? The promise given that he would have a son by Sarah. 3. What was its object? The promised seed, in whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed.
Now apply all this to 1 Peter 1:3, 4, and it will be seen that the living hope there spoken of has, in a similar way, 1, An origin; 2, A foundation; 3, An object.
But as we have sufficiently unfolded the two former constituents of a lively hope, we shall now, taking up the thread of our exposition, proceed to consider the third, that is, the OBJECT. This is declared to be "an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away."
Observe, first, that it is "an INHERITANCE," and therefore a blessing for the future, not for the present, a treasure in prospect, not in possession. It is, indeed, this peculiar feature which makes it the object of hope, as the Apostle argues—"For we are saved by hope; but hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man sees, why does he yet hope for?" (Rom. 8:24.) We do not hope for what we see and enjoy, but for what we see not, that is, in present possession, but look for and anticipate as a future blessing. Hope is, therefore, compared to an anchor which, unseen in itself, enters into that within the veil, and therefore in things also unseen. Thus hope deals with an unseen, yet not unknown, inheritance; for as the heir of a large property has, during his minority, a foretaste of his future possessions by being fed, clothed, educated, and furnished with pocket-money out of them, so the heir of God has in this life foretastes of his inheritance in having every need supplied out of it, and being sometimes able to look forward to it as his eternal portion, though to mortal sight now invisible.
1. The first thing said of this inheritance is that it is "incorruptible." Being eternal life, it is not capable of diminishing or decay. An earthly inheritance is corruptible, and it is so in two ways—1, in itself; 2, in its consequences. When an heir succeeds to his father's property, whether land, or houses, or money, all is alike corruptible, because all is alike earthly. We need not stop to prove how transient and uncertain all earthly possessions are. Every day bears witness that the most splendid estates, finest houses, and largest sums may be all dissipated by gambling and personal extravagance on the part of the owner himself, or lost for him by others through the fraud or failure of bubble banks, speculative companies, or dishonest trustees.
And as earthly possessions are thus corruptible in themselves, so are they often ministers of corruption to their possessors. Wealth feeds the lusts of the flesh by giving its possessor the power to gratify them; nurses his pride by making him, so to speak, independent of the providence of God; fosters the love of the world by giving him a portion in it; and sets him at a distance from the poor children of God as unsuitable companions, he thinks, for a man of position and property. How different from this is the inheritance which is the object of hope. It is "incorruptible" in itself, and every prospect or foretaste of it feeds and nurtures that new man of grace which is born of the incorruptible seed of the word of God. And, indeed, this inheritance must needs be incorruptible, for it is no less than God himself. Of this the tribe of Levi was a type—"But unto the tribe of Levi Moses gave not any inheritance; the Lord God of Israel was their inheritance, as he said unto them." (Josh. 8:33.) The Apostle, therefore, calls believers "heirs of God and joint heirs with (or of) Christ." All, therefore, that God is in his infinite perfections, in all his love, blessedness, and glory is theirs by heirship; and thus as he is essentially incorruptible, and knows neither change nor deviation, but is ever the same great and glorious I AM, their inheritance is incorruptible, and can no more suffer loss, decay, or corruption than the Lord himself.
And as it is "incorruptible in itself," so it brings into the heart which entertains it by faith and hope a portion of its own incorruptibility. John speaks of the effect of this lively hope as anticipating its inheritance—"Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure." (1 John 3:2, 3.) There is in God an everflowing, overflowing fountain of grace as well as of glory, and thus, as he is looked to, believed in, waited on, sought and served, obeyed and loved in his dear Son, there is a flowing into the soul of those graces of the Spirit which purify the heart from the love of the world, and sanctify and fit for the enjoyment of its eternal inheritance.
2. It is also "undefiled." Earthly inheritances are sometimes ill-gotten, and seem to have the curse of God upon them. The hands of those who got them were defiled with blood—the blood of orphans and widows ruined by gambling and speculation, raising the winner to wealth and often driving the loser to suicide. Or even when honestly and honorably gained, property and wealth are of that nature that few escape being in some way defiled by them. Even in those who fear God, wealth has a strong tendency to defile the conscience, either by the love of money, issuing in covetousness, or by spending it improperly and selfishly, or to defile the feet by walking too much after the fashion and spirit of the world.
But this inheritance of the saints is "undefiled." It is eternal purity in itself, and every fresh glimpse, foretaste, or enjoyment of it here brings purity with it. After you have been speculating, contriving, plotting, planning, and scheming how to manage this or that concern, employ this or that money, or invest to the best advantage this or that nice little sum which has just come rolling in, how defiled your conscience often has been with guilt on account of your carnality and covetousness. But when for a few minutes you have looked forward to your eternal inheritance, spent a few sweet and happy moments with the Lord, and felt your faith, hope, and love to flow forth toward him, there has been no defiled conscience or burdened mind; no sighs or groans over your wretched covetousness and worldliness; no condemnation for coveting the Lord as your happy and enduring portion; no gloomy day nor restless night. How at such moments you desire you could be in that blessed frame all the day long, and ever feel that holy calm, that heavenly tranquillity, and that sweet spirituality of mind which is truly life and peace.
3. And "it fades not away." Whatever you may have in this world, be it much or little, you must leave it. You will pass away from it, and another will possess your land, your house, or your money. And if you have no other inheritance than earth gives, where will be your portion in death, and to all eternity? But if you are begotten again unto a lively hope, even if you do not enjoy the full assurance of faith, you have before you an inheritance which fades not away. We imagine sometimes how happy we would be if we had this man's fine estate, or that man's large property; how much better we would spend it than he does, and what good we would do with it. And do you think that these men are happy with all their possessions, and that you would be happier or better if you had them? It is not in nature to be happy. These rich men have a canker which eats up all their happiness. And even if free from the heavier troubles of life, all satisfaction of the flesh fades away, for possession of itself rubs off all the bloom, and with wealth come all the anxieties and cares connected with it.
But this eternal inheritance "fades not away." The sweetest flowers fade and are thrown away as they become nauseous to sight and smell. But there is an abiding freshness, a constant verdure, a perpetual bloom, an unceasing fragrance, a permanent sweetness in this eternal inheritance, so that it is never flat or stale, but remains ever the same, or rather is ever increasing in beauty and blessedness, as more known, believed in, hoped unto, and loved.
4. But it is as SECURE as it is unfading. It is "reserved in heaven," and is thus kept for the predestined heirs in the safest, as well as the happiest, of all places. The word means preserved as well as reserved—preserved so that it cannot be touched by the hands of the spoiler, and reserved that the heir may enjoy it at the appointed time. It is, therefore, out of the reach of sin, death, and hell, secured from all the storms of time, all the waves and billows of affliction and tribulation, all the assaults of Satan, and all the fears, sinkings, misgivings, anxieties, and perplexities of a heart dismayed at every breath.
It is a point which we would touch cautiously and reverently, but it is a truth which, however abused by ungodly men, is full of comfort to an exercised soul, that as it is reserved in heaven we cannot sin away our interest in this inheritance. We may through sin sadly lose our enjoyment of it, sadly damp our assurance of an interest in it, sink almost into despair under a load of guilt and self-condemnation, and go mourning all our days at the bitter recollection of our filth and folly; but we cannot, if chosen in Christ, sin away our eternal inheritance in him.
5. It is therefore added of these heirs that they are "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation." The word translated "kept" means properly garrisoned, that is, kept as if in a fortified place, so as to be guarded from all enemies. Thus, as the inheritance is reserved for them, and they are preserved for the inheritance, both are equally safe, the inheritance as reserved in heaven, and the heirs as preserved on earth by the immediate and mighty power of God; for he himself in his glorious perfections surrounds them as with a wall of fire. "For I, says the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her." (Zech. 2:5.) They are therefore kept by the mighty power of God unto salvation. There may seem to be but a step between them and death; their feet may be almost gone; Satan may roar against them as if he would utterly devour them; the grave may yawn for them, and almost all hope of being saved be gone. But with all this they are kept by the power of God. His unseen hand holds them up, keeps back their enemies, says to Satan, "Thus far shall you go, and no further, and here shall your proud waves be stayed," and thus he maintains the work of grace in their souls.
It is therefore beautifully added, "through faith." Though kept effectually by the power of God, the heirs of salvation are not kept mechanically, as a child in a nursery is kept from falling into, or playing with the fire, by a tall iron fence, or unwillingly, as a horse or a mule is held in with bit and bridle, but are kept spiritually through the medium of a special grace of the Spirit, the grace of faith. As unbelief is the parent sin of all disobedience, so faith is the parent grace of all obedience; and as the outcome of unbelief is destruction, so the outcome of faith is salvation. In and through this faith, his own gift, God works, communicating by it strength to the soul, and feeding it continually by his own word, so that it lives and acts. Thus it is through faith that the power whereby God keeps his people, acts and is made known. In your saddest moments, sharpest exercises, and most trying conflicts, do you not find a something in you which will not give up the fight? Or if for a short time you seem out of breath, and lie helpless on the ground, still you are up and at it again. Faith draws another breath. Its language is, "Yet will I look again toward your holy temple." "Rejoice not against me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall arise." It knows he is able to deliver, and thus it keeps pleading promises, confessing sins, calling on the Son of God to appear, and determined, if it dies in the battle, to die at his feet.
It is very instructive and encouraging to be able to trace in our own hearts the connection between the power of God and the actings of faith. We are not carried to heaven as passengers are carried by the express train, so that if once in the carriage they may go to sleep, look out of the window, or read the newspaper without fear of losing their way, or not reaching their destination. Such travelers may find themselves surrounded in a moment by everlasting flames of fire, as those found literally who perished so lamentably last summer, near Abergele.
Though kept by the power of God, we have to fight every step of the way. It is this living, fighting, struggling, and yet eventually conquering faith, which sets the tried and exercised child of God at such a distance from the loose and careless doctrinal professor, who is hardened and emboldened to presume, and even walk in ways of sin and death by holding the doctrine of 'being kept by the power of God', without knowing anything of the secret way by which this power works and keeps. To such we may adapt the language of James. You believe that the elect of God are kept by his Almighty power unto salvation. "You do well; the devils also believe and tremble"—which you do not if you be one of these loose professors.
But does God keep you? Does he keep you from evil, that it may not grieve you? Does He keep your eye single, your conscience tender, your heart prayerful, your life and walk circumspect, your eye from adultery, your tongue from folly, your hands from covetousness, and your feet from the ways of pride and worldliness? You have no evidence that you are an heir of God, and are being kept by his power unto salvation, unless you have some experience how he keeps, and that as it is by power on his part, so it is through faith on yours. Whenever we slip, stumble, or go astray, it is through the power of unbelief; and whenever we stand, fight, or prevail, it is by faith. If you will only look at those various instances in which you have gone astray, brought a load of guilt on your conscience, or cut out work for bitter regret and self-loathing all the days of your life, you will see that the first step toward evil was unbelief. You distrusted the providence of God, or neglected to wait upon him for his counsel, or disbelieved a warning given in his word against the thing you were desirous and almost determined to do, or preferred your own will and way to his, or had gradually sunk into a careless, cold, lethargic state of soul, in which unbelief was strong, and faith so weak that it seemed scarcely to have in it life or motion.
When Nathan was sent to David, to expose to him his crime, he said to him, "Why have you despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight?" (2 Sam. 12:9.) David despised the commandment of the Lord, first by disbelieving, and then disobeying it. When we say "disbelieving it," we mean practically, not speculatively so; for a man may not actually disbelieve a precept, but if he breaks it, he shows plainly that he acts as if he did not really believe God spoke to him in and by it. And on the other hand, if you will look back to see how your feet were kept in the hour of temptation, and preserved from, or delivered out of a snare of Satan, you will find that it was through faith that God kept you by his upholding power, and that by taking hold of his strength, as made perfect in weakness, you obtained the victory.
We have drawn this point out at some length, as being of such deep and daily importance, and from the conviction also that the best way of expounding the word of truth is to show the saints of God, from their own experience, its spiritual meaning.