CHRISTIAN HOPE

By John Angell James, 1859


ON THE NATURE OF CHRISTIAN HOPE, AND
ITS DISTINCTION FROM FAITH AND LOVE

All Christians are not philosophers, nor is it necessary, either for their safety or their sanctity, that they should be. Philosophy has done little for theology but to corrupt it; and yet a sound philosophy must ever be in harmony with a sound theology. A clear view of our mental behaviors would help us to clearer views, if not of the doctrines of Christianity, yet of the best method of reducing them to practice in our daily walk. A correct analysis of our spiritual nature in all its faculties, besides the gratification which a knowledge of the 'science of ourselves' will never fail to impart, will be some assistance to us in carrying forward and advancing to a higher perfection the duties of the divine life. A philosophical view of the nature of hope, will therefore be of some service to us in guiding its exercises.

HOPE is not a simple—but a complex passion, and consists of the desire of some object, the expectation of obtaining it, together with that joy which arises from both these. Its basis may be said to be desire, which may exist in different forms, according to the degree of probability of the attainment of its object. When there is little, if any probability, it constitutes what is termed a mere wish. When the probability is stronger, it connects itself with expectation, and becomes hope. And with a probability that amounts almost to certainty, it settles into confidence. Desire, without expectation, is despair. Expectation, without desire, is dread. Strong desire, with faint expectation, is feeble hope. Strong desire, with confident expectation, is assurance.

These distinctions will be found to be of some service in the Christian life, as showing what states of mind to cultivate, in order to the full enjoyment of Christian privilege. For instance—in order to "a lively hope," it is not only necessary to inflame desire after spiritual blessings—but also to strengthen expectation. We must not only see that these things are necessary—but attainable, and attainable by us; and as this persuasion of attainableness constitutes faith, in order to strengthen hope, we must increase in faith. And as expectation is never likely to be excited without a sense of the desirableness of its object—if we would rouse up a lively expectation, we must first kindle an intense desire. It is when the soul has a longing desire after future glory, and a confident expectation of it, that it rises in hope, until it reaches to a full assurance.

The OBJECT of hope must be something good, and something future. No one by possibility can desire what is evil—or to speak with greater precision, what appears to be evil. Good, or apparent good, must be the object of hope. Here, it will be perceived, it differs from faith, which may and does believe in what is evil as well as what is good. Christian faith has respect to all the threatenings of God, no less than to his promises—but hope has respect only to his invitations and promises.

Hope must have respect to some future good, as the apostle has most correctly said, "Hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man sees, why does he yet hope for it?"—Rom. 8:24. Here again it differs both from faith and love, for these may have existence in relation to a present object. But while differing in some views from these graces, it has a resemblance to them in others. Hope resembles faith in regard to expectation. "Faith," says the apostle, "is the substance (or confident expectation) of things hoped for"—Heb. 12:1. There can be neither faith nor hope where there is no expectation. This is an important remark as bearing on Christian experience. Many people imagine, and it can be but imagination, that they really believe in Christ, while they have no expectation of salvation. This is impossible. Expectation is at once the exercise and the evidence of faith; and faith is strong or weak according to the degree of expectation. The same may be said of hope. And as hope touches faith on the side of expectation, so it touches love on the side of desire. There can be no love where there is no desire; and in proportion to the fervor of love, is the strength and intensity of desire. This also may be said of hope.

Hope resembles these two kindred graces in another particular, and that is in joy. We read, and I trust we feel, that there is "joy and peace in believing," and we read also of "the comfort of love," and the apostle speaks of "Rejoicing in hope." Holy joy is the evidence of both faith and hope. If there be no consolation in the troubled bosom, can there be any belief of the truth as it is in Jesus, or a confident expectation of glory everlasting?

How beautifully do the graces of the Holy Spirit in the soul of the Christian, like the colors of the rainbow, soften down into one another. Look at that glorious ethereal arch, and separate the colors, if you can, by a visible line of demarcation. The eye cannot tell where each begins and ends; and as the union of all these forms the pure white light of day—so the union of faith, hope, and love, though distinct graces, yet blending together, forms the piety of the real Christian.

And as these graces are similar in nature, they are harmonious in their exercise; like certain strings of music, touch one, and the others vibrate. They are a trinity in unity, which cannot be separated and exist apart. We cannot really believe and not love—for "faith works by love." Nor can we love without faith—for love is the fruit of faith, and the fruit cannot be produced without the tree. So neither can we hope without faith—for hope is the desire and expectation of something promised. And then see how love excites hope; for if we love Christ, shall we not long to be with him, and that in exact proportion as our love to him is intense? This relation to each other, and the operation of the graces in producing, or at any rate, strengthening each other, is beautifully described by the apostle, where he says, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so—but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans 5:1-5

The ROOT of the other two graces is faith. The gospel brings us the glad tidings of salvation, by the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. The message meets the ear, is unfolded to the understanding, and applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit. Conviction of sin is produced, and an earnest desire after pardon, peace, and eternal life is felt. But this desire is not yet hope, for the poor distressed soul is in doubt and fear of his acceptance with God. He cannot yet attain to a blissful expectation. Wandering about in gloom and anxiety, he is yet a stranger to joy, to hope, to love; in fact, a stranger to everything but sin, sorrow, and alarm. He desires salvation—but dares not expect it, and therefore, of course, cannot hope for it. Why not? Simply because he does not believe the glad news that Christ died for him as well, and, as really, and as much, as for others. His sins are felt to be too great to be pardoned, or there is something else necessary to obtain their pardon.

At length further light and teaching from the divine Comforter and Illuminator leads him to see that he is included in the objects of divine mercy, and invited to partake of its rich benefits. He believes in Christ, and now what follows? Hope! He now expects to be forgiven—to be saved. The promise holds up the blessing, faith believes it; hope not only desires—but looks for it. "Yes," says the poor distracted sinner, "I believe that God has loved me, that Christ has died for me; that I am invited to him; and now my doubts and fears are scattered, and I expect salvation."

Thus you see that faith believes the great object attainable, and hope desires and expects it. It is well to see this connection between faith and hope, not only at the outset of the Christian life—but through all its future progress. Can I hope for any favor from one on whom I have no claim, if he has not promised it—or does not exhibit in his character and usual conduct some ground for my expectation—for my faith? And if he promises me, can I hope, until I believe his promise—and if I believe, shall I not hope? This is so plain that it scarcely needs either confirmation or illustration. Yet it is so important to see the connection between faith and hope, that one or two examples may be here cited.

I refer the reader to the case of Abraham in Romans 4:16, 21. If he will turn to the passage, he will see that, concerning the promised seed "he believed, and against hope believed in hope." Here the faith and the hope are proportionate. As he believed the promise—which was contrary to nature—so he hoped for what was contrary to nature. So again it is said of Moses, "Who by faith refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter," "for he had respect unto the recompense of reward." He believed the promise of God, and he hoped for the things promised. Another instance of this may be seen in Paul in Romans 8:33-39; where we see the assurance of faith and the assurance of hope connected; the one arising from the other, and both blending into one delightful sentiment of triumphant confidence.

Some Christians complain of the feebleness of their hope, and want it to be in livelier exercise. The object of their desires appears dim and distant, and their expectations of it tremulous and fluctuating. Fear often prevails and deepens into despondency. What would they give for a clearer view, and a more animated anticipation of divine and heavenly realities—but alas! they know not how to obtain it. They seek—but do not find it; pray—but do not get it; wait—but it does not come. The secret is easily found. Their faith is weak. They do not grasp the promise. They give way to their doubts, and their fears must of necessity rise and prevail. Fear is the shadow of doubt; and hope the sunshine of faith. Let us be more conversant with the terms of the promise and the attributes of the promiser. Let us weigh the evidences of the truth of the word of God, and then make ourselves familiar with his omnipotence and immutability, and we shall be strong in hope when we are strong in faith. And now love will of necessity follow the exercise of the other two.

Can I really believe that Christ loves me with all that wondrous benevolence which brought him from heaven to earth; made him a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; led him to agonize in Gethsemane, and expire on the cross for me—and not love him in return? Is this the only exception to the rule which says, that love begets love? Shall we not on the contrary say, and feel what we say, "We love him—because he first loved us? And does not hope equally inflame love? When I range over the prospects of eternal life and glory—when I survey the inheritance which is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fades not away—when by sanctified imagination I walk through the new Jerusalem, and see her streets of gold, her gates of pearl, her foundations of all precious stones—when I see her glorified population, and hear their anthems of praise, their songs of delight—when I see the Lamb in the midst of the throne, and the river of the water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from it; and the tree of life on the banks of the river, with its twelve kinds of fruits, and all this shining brightly with the glory of God—and then say, I hope for all this; all this is my future possession—shall I not love Him who has given me this good hope, this everlasting consolation?"

We see in all this the connection of the graces of true religion, their mutual dependence and influence upon each other. They all spring from the same principle of grace in the soul, and are the action of the same spiritual life. In the tree there are the root, the trunk, the branch, the leaf, the fruit; yet all nourished from the soil, and mutually dependent and operative. In the flower there are the root, the stem, the petal, the fragrance; yet all sustained by the same principle of vitality. In the human body there is the variety of organs and limbs; yet, all united to the head, and by receiving influence from that, and being fully "joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." So is it in the soul, and its holy dispositions; there is variety of parts and of functions, yet unity of construction and operation.

If we believe, there is the operation of the principle of renewing and sanctifying grace; if we hope, there is the operation of the same principle; and if we love, there is also the same. There are not only diversities of gifts, the working of the same Spirit in the same church—but diversities of operations of the Spirit in the individual Christian.

Is there not something to be gathered from this, affecting the experience of the believer, and auxiliary to his consolation in those painful exercises of soul to which he is liable, in his present state of discipline and probation? Seasons of gloom, depression and doubt, do occur in the history of most Christians, and more frequently in the life of some, than in others. Far be it from me, to write anything that would tend to nourish those morbid conditions of the soul—and there is an injudicious mode of treating them which has this tendency. My object is to comfort the perturbed heart under them, and lead that heart out of its perplexities. Such a person is sometimes troubled because he cannot find all the graces in full and vigorous action; at other times, because he cannot find one the graces that has specially engaged his attention. Sometimes he doubts of his state, because his faith is weak; at others, because his hope is dull; and at others, because his love is lukewarm. "Is it faith," says good old Gurnall, "that you have been looking after, and it has not been heard of; well, Christian, do not presently unsaint yourself until you have made further trial of yourself. Send out, therefore, your spies to search for some other grace, as your love for Christ; perhaps you will hear some tidings of this grace, though the other is not in view. Has not your love to Christ been seen by you in such a temptation, chasing it away with Joseph's answer—'How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?' Yes, may you not see it all the day long, either in your sincere care to please him, or hearty sorrow when you have done anything that grieves him? in which two veins runs the life's blood of a soul's love to Christ. Now, know to your comfort, that your love manifests the reality of your faith. But perhaps your love to Christ is lodged in a cloud. Well, then, see whether you cannot spy no evangelical repentance leading you with the sight of your sins, as also in firing you with revenge against them, as those enemies which drew you into rebellion against God. Behold the grace you look for stands by you; for your zeal against sin—which is God's enemy—is love to God."

Now, this goes upon the supposition, which is a true one—that all the Christian graces are in every soul that is truly saved—and that the existence of one implies all the rest, though one may be more fully developed, or, at least, more clearly ascertained in one person than in another, and in the same person at different times and stages of his religious experience.

There is another thing to be observed in reference to these graces of the sanctified mind—that they are very closely connected in their growth and decay. We would again borrow our illustration from vegetable and animal life. When the young sapling grows it is, in all its parts, the root, the trunk, the branch, the leaf, the fruit; so in the human body, as to its various limbs, the increase of one is also the increase of the other. And like this, generally, is the process of decay. Observe the process of decline in the human frame under the wasting power of consumption. The signs and proofs of emaciation are visible in every part. And in other cases a diseased limb may impart disease to the whole body. So it is in the new creature, the spiritual man, when faith grows, hope and love grow with it; and when love decays, faith and hope will decay at the same time.

Here again is a source of instruction, warning and caution. The Christian must be watchful over the state and condition of his whole soul, just as a person who would maintain good health must be attentive to all the organs of his body; not only guard against blindness—but take care of his hearing; nor guard against consumption—but against fever; and while he looks well to his power of walking, not neglect the muscles of his arms, and especially be observant of diseases of the head, and of the heart.

Ah, this is what is needed to our spiritual health—a recollection that a deficiency of action or disease in one grace, may lead to a deficiency in others. We should look well to the whole new nature. If one grace begins to weaken we should instantly take alarm lest the decay extend to others, and the whole man become weak and sickly. If our faith in Christ or Heaven grows feeble, let us tremble lest our hope of our eternal life diminish, and we sink into an earthly and lukewarm condition. If our love becomes lukewarm, our hope will languish, and the decay of both will impinge upon our faith.

Our spiritual life is so fine and delicate a thing, that one deficiency left unsupplied, one little sin unmortified, may be attended with most serious consequences. Decay is always progressive in its tendency. A single stone falling out of a stone-wall, if the hole be not repaired, may lead to the falling out of one stone after another, until the whole tumble down. A single beam in a roof infected with the dry-rot may, if allowed to remain, extend to all the timbers until the whole falls in. Attention must, therefore, be paid to all the graces of the Spirit; for if one be neglected the rest will suffer.

But on the other hand, for our encouragement, we may recollect that the cultivation and strengthening of one grace, is the growth of all the rest. While we are growing in faith, we are growing in hope and love. It is well, however, to endeavor to ascertain in which of the three our deficiency is likely to lie, and from the deficiency in which our chief danger is likely to arise—that we may direct our attention with especial care to the weak parts. Just as we do in our bodily health; whatever organ or limb is more likely than the rest to become sickly—to that we direct our chief solicitude and care.

As regards our states of heart, we have our constitutional tendencies, our besetting sins. One Christian is more tempted to a weak faith, another to a languid hope, and another to a lukewarm affection. We should know our tendencies; in order to this, we should study ourselves. What science is so valuable to us as the science of our own hearts? Yet, how few possess it! With all the opportunities and incentives to obtain this self-knowledge which they possess, how small is the number which make any proficiency in it! Some are wilfully ignorant; they desire not to know their own selves—they shun acquaintance with their own hearts. Others are carelessly ignorant; they treat their own souls, in spiritual matters, with a thoughtlessness and levity, which are truly pitiable. Even pious people are far greater strangers at home in themselves, than they ought to be. The whole concern of true religion is of such momentous importance—the great discipline and probation for eternity are of such tremendous consequence—that nothing should be neglected which has a bearing upon it. And how can we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, if we do not know towards which of the besetting sins our tendency lies.

Such, then, I mean the union and exercise of those three graces, faith, hope and love, is the true religion of Jesus Christ. "Now," said the apostle, "abides these three," as much as to say, amid all the changes of external administration, after the cessation of many things, such as miracles, granted only for a temporary purpose; and after the rejection of many things which are the officious meddling and diverse inventions of man's carnal wisdom—these three graces will ever remain the soul and substance of the Gospel scheme. No change of administration will nullify or weaken these; no devices of an ingenious and busy superstition will supersede these; no mysticism will ever render these 'secondary matters' in the Christian life. As long as there is a church on earth, these three graces will remain the vital, essential, substantial elements of true evangelical piety.

It is worthy the observation of all times, and especially of the present age, how little is said in the New Testament about rites and ceremonies, and even of sacraments and the Sabbath—compared with what is said about faith, hope and love. The ritualists must go back to the ceremonial law of Moses to find their system, and spirit, and prevailing practice; for the teaching of Christ and his apostles relates to other and higher matters. These things, it is true, have their place; the Sabbath and the sacraments are, indeed, inculcated—but where in the gospels and epistles do we find the remotest hint of all that paraphernalia of ritualism—those 'ceremonial services' and spiritual performances—which constitute so large a portion of the worship of the Church of Rome, and of those who have the folly to imitate her practice, without the honesty to assume her profession! Where do we find that all but endless enumeration of saints' days, fasts and festivals, which, in the corrupt Roman Church, is made the essence of piety! How strange a contrast, does the religion of a Popish chapel, or ritualistic church, present to that of Paul, Peter, James, or John. Surely, if all that the Papists and ritualists prescribe as necessary to acceptable worship be, indeed, required—how deficient is the Bible as a rule of faith and practice—and how far short are the teachings of inspiration of what we need on such matters for our guidance.

If faith, hope and love constitute the vital elements of true religion, and we know they do—what a view do they afford us of its nobleness and excellence. How clearly does it appear that it is not like the prophet's roll, sweet as honey in the mouth, and bitter as gall in the belly. It is no sullen stoicism, no sour pharisaism. It does not consist in a few gloomy rites or melancholy passions, in dejected looks, dolorous lamentations and mental depressions—but it consists in freedom, love, peace, life and power. In its rise and origin it comes from heaven, and is ever moving towards it. The man who pursues it lives above the world and all its mundane delights and excellences—in converse with his own reason and his God. He receives an influence from God which carries him back to God. The very faculties of his soul are strengthened by it in their exercise, and the sphere of their operation widened, and the objects of their contemplation not only multiplied—but elevated into sublimity. By faith, and hope, and love—he acquires a holy control over himself—achieves the noblest victories over all that is base, sinful and worldly in his nature—and rises into the mighty state of true godliness. By a true religion formed of these graces, he renounces the base and unworthy ends for which the multitude around him live—escapes the imprisonment of an abject selfishness—and by seeking to glorify God, enters into a sympathy and fellowship with Him in the ends of his conduct and the pursuit of his schemes.

Faith, and hope, and love, all lead his soul to God as the source of his happiness, the model of his character, and the supreme object of his existence—and thus unite him with the Author of his being. It is utterly impossible that such a true religion should not beget in him the greatest serenity and composedness of mind, and the purest and most satisfying pleasures of soul. Each of these graces, by itself, and all united, have this effect upon his happy spirit. His true religion is the commencement of an eternal progress in moral excellence, for though faith and hope will cease, love will remain forever. To this bliss he is ever carried forward by the impulses and aspirations of hope; which, when he reaches it, will land him on a shore where perfect and eternal felicity will arise out of a perfect and eternal sanctity.

True religion consists of faith, hope and love. It is no mere mechanical, artificial, ritual, external thing—not the boiling up of our imaginative powers—nor the glowing heats of passion—though these two are often mistaken for it, when in our jugglings of religion we cast a mist before our own eyes. But true religion is a new nature in the soul; it is a godlike nature manifesting itself, most of all, in serene and clear minds, in deep humility, meekness, self-denial, universal love of God, and all true goodness, without hypocrisy—whereby we are taught to know God, and, knowing, to love Him, and conform ourselves to Him.

I have lately met with the following parable, in prose-poetry, of the relation and influence of Faith and Hope, which may be as instructive to the judgment, and as useful to the heart, as it is pleasing to the imagination–

One morning as the sun arose, two spirits went forth upon the earth.

And they were sisters—but Faith was of mature age, while Hope was yet a child.

They were both beautiful. Some loved to gaze upon the countenance of Faith, for her eye was serene, and her beauty changed not—but hope was the delight of every heart.

And the child sported in the freshness of the morning; and as she hovered over the gardens and dewy lawns, her wings glittered in the sunbeams like the rainbow.

'Come, my sister,' she cried, 'and chase with me, this butterfly from flower to flower.'

But her sister was gazing at the lark as it arose from its low nest and warbled among the clouds.

And when it was noon, the child said again, 'Come, my sister, and pluck with me the flowers of the garden, for they are beautiful, and their fragrance is sweet.'

But Faith replied, 'No, my sister, let the flowers be yours, for you are young, and delight yourself in their beauty. I will meditate in the shade until the heat of the day be past. You will find me by the fountain in the forest. When you are weary, come and repose on my bosom.' And she smiled and departed.

After a time hope sought her sister. The tear was in her eye, and her countenance was mournful.

Then faith said, 'My sister, why do you weep, and why is your countenance sad?'

And the child answered, 'Because a cloud is in the sky, and the sunshine is overcast. See, the rain begins to fall.'

'It is but a shower,' Faith replied, 'and when it is over the fields will be greener than before.'

Now the place where they sat was sheltered from the rain, as it had been from the noontide heat. And Faith comforted the child, and showed her how the waters flowed with a fuller and clearer stream as the shower fell.

And presently the sun broke out again, and the woods resounded with song.

Then Hope was glad, and went forth to her sports once more.

After a time the sky was again darkened, and the young spirit looked up, and behold! there was no cloud in the whole circle of the heavens.

Therefore hope marveled, for it was not yet night.

And she fled to her sister, and cast herself down at her feet, and trembled exceedingly.

Then Faith raised the child, and led her forth from the shade of the trees, and pointed to the sun and said, 'A mist is passing over the face thereof—but no ray of his glory is extinguished. He still walks in brightness, and you shall again delight yourself in his beams. See, even yet his face is not wholly hidden from us.'

But the child dared not look up, for the gloom struck upon her heart. And when all was bright again she feared to wander from her sister, and her sports were less gay than before.

When the eventide was come, Faith went forth from the forest shade, and sought the lawn, where she might watch the setting of the sun.

Then said she to her young sister, 'Come and behold how far the glories of the sunset transcend the beauties of the morning. See how softly they melt away and give place to the shadows of the night.'

But Hope was now weary, her eye was heavy, and her voice languid. She folded her radiant wings, and dropped on her sister's lap, and fell asleep.

But Faith watched through the night, she was never weary, nor did her eyelids need repose.

She laid the child on a bed of flowers, and kissed her cheek. She also drew her mantle round the head of the sleeper, that she might sleep in peace.

Then Faith looked upwards, and beheld how the stars came forth. She traced them in their radiant courses, and listened to their harmonies, which mortal ear has not heard.

And as she listened, their music entranced her soul.

At length light appeared in the east, and the sun burst forth from the portals of the heavens. Then Faith hastened to arouse the young sleeper.

'Awake! O my sister! awake!' she cried; 'a new day has dawned, and no cloud shall overshadow it. Awake! for the sun has arisen which shall set no more!'

Now what is the moral of this ingenious and pleasing parable? That faith and hope are naturally related and inseparably united; that faith is the strength of hope, can clear up its difficulties, chase away its apprehensions; revive its languors, inflame its desires, and confirm its expectations. Yes, and more than this, for it shows us that when hope falls into slumber, it is faith that awakens it from its sleep, and points it to the rising and unsetting sun of heaven's eternal day. There are, however, one or two things in the piece which are not quite correct, inasmuch as it represents hope as too young a sister, too childish, and too earthly; for hope in Jesus and in heaven, though the younger sister of faith, is nearly of the same age; and instead of chasing the butterfly and plucking the flowers, gazes not only at the lark and listens to its warblings—but looks up to the sky into which it soars. Still the beautiful and poetic lesson is, that faith in Christ and eternal glory, sustains our hope of both; that faith is the guardian of hope, and that when our hope wanders from the side of faith, it must, of necessity, fall into doubt, and fear, and gloom.