Hoping in the Lord
"Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption." -Psalm 130:7.
To what a sacred 'height' does the soul of the Psalmist now rise! Mounting as with eagle wing, he soars above all cloud and storm, and stands, with the Apocalyptic angel, in the very center of the sun; springing from the lowest "depths," and planting his foot on the topmost height of faith's ladder, he summons the whole Israel of God to imitate his ascent and participate his joy. "Let Israel hope in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption."
Such is the privilege, and such may be the experience of all the saints. They, who in their soul-depths are found prayerfully and believingly waiting on the Lord; shall assuredly be found "hoping in the Lord." Prayer strengthens faith, and faith begets hope, and hope, lifting the soul superior to all circumstances of trial and despondency, folds its golden pinions upon the very bosom of God. "Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." "I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope." "Let Israel hope in the Lord." These words suggest three interesting and instructive points of reflection the object, the character, and the encouragement of the Christian's hope. May the Holy Spirit guide and bless our meditation thereon!
We have upon the threshold of our subject a sharply defined line of essential difference between the believer and the unbeliever, the converted and the unconverted, the Church and the world, touching the object of hope. The unconverted are described by the inspired penman as "having no hope," Appalling description! Interpreting it but in its relation to the present world, can the imagination, in its boldest flight, picture a condition more pitiable and appalling than that of entire hopelessness? Divest man of hope, and you have plunged him in the darkest, deepest abyss of despair.
Take from the sufferer the hope of relief, from the sick the hope of life, from the exile the hope of return, from the captive the hope of release, from the condemned the hope of reprieve, and you have quenched the last spark of life, have dashed from the lips the last drop of comfort, shading the entire scenery of existence with the heaviest clouds of despair and woe. It is hope- the first true offspring of reason, the recognition of purer intelligence- that rocks the cradle of suffering infancy, paints its golden tinge upon the dismal cell of the prisoner, lulls to balmy repose the couch of languor, sits proudly upon the warrior's crest, and visits alike, faithfully and kindly, the poor man's hut as the rich man's palace.
"What is hope? The beauteous sun,
Which colors all it shines upon!
The beacon of life's dreary sea,
The star of immortality!
Fountain of feeling, young and warm,
A day-beam bursting through the storm!
A tune of melody, whose birth
Is, oh, too sweet, too pure for earth!
A blossom of that radiant tree
Whose fruit the angels only see!
A beauty and a charm, whose power
Is seen, enjoyed, confessed each hour!
A picture of that world to come,
When earth and ocean meet
The last overwhelming doom!"
But what is all human hope, as to its nature and object, but a phantom and a dream as the foam on the crest of the billow, the shadow on the mountain's brow- unsubstantial and fleeting? Yet, how does the soul cling to it! How do men, looking only to the things that are seen and temporal, cling to human hopes, pursuing a bubble, building upon a shadow, grasping the wind! How unreal, unsatisfying, and evanescent the hope that rests in the creature, that is built on the world, that clings to wealth and honor and life! All for a while looks true and bright- hope investing the present and painting the future with its most gorgeous and attractive hues. But, adversity comes, and reverse comes, and sickness comes, and death comes, and eternity comes, and then the sky is darkened, and the flowers droop, and the music is hushed, and all human hopes one by one grow dim and expire as the day fades into evening, and the evening deepens into night. Oh the folly of building the hope of happiness below God, out of Christ, and this side of Heaven! Chase no longer the phantom, the dream, the shadow of human hope, of earth-born good; but, acquaint your self with God, seek Christ, and fix your thoughts, your affections, your whole being, upon the world of stern and solemn reality towards which time is rapidly speeding you. "This is life eternal, that they might know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent."
We now turn to the Christian's hope- the only true, substantial, and living hope of the soul. How truly and impressively the passage under consideration defines this hope. "Let Israel hope in the Lord" -not in the creature, not in himself, not in his own righteousness- but, "let him HOPE IN THE LORD."
There is everything in God to inspire and encourage hope. Oh, it is a marvelous truth- a truth, had it not been divinely revealed, the mind could not have discovered, nor the heart have believed it that, the soul of man, lost in sin, might again hope in God! But examine the foundation of this hope, and all wonder ceases. Christ is the Foundation, the Object, and the End of the believing sinner's hope. "The Lord Jesus Christ, who is our hope." There is but one divinely revealed and assured hope of heaven, and it centers wholly and exclusively in the Savior of sinners. The Atonement of Christ touches the soul, and meets its case at every point. There could be no hope of the sinner's pardon and justification consistently with Divine Justice, Holiness, and Truth apart from the obedience, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The remission of the sin and the justification of the sinner, in the exercise of mere Mercy, would have subverted the authority of the Divine Law, and have prostrated the honor and dignity of the Divine Government. It follows then, as strictly logical as it is soundly scriptural, that a hope of eternal happiness, reposing upon the abstract attribute of Mercy, must prove fallacious and fatal, since, based, upon the principle of one Divine perfection, exhibited and exercised at the expense, compromise, and destruction of all the others; this necessarily involving the undeifying of the Being and the overthrow of the moral Government of God.
In pardoning the sin, and in justifying the sinner, the penalty incurred and the obedience demanded must be met. The law must be honored, justice satisfied, holiness secured, and the righteousness, dignity, and glory of the moral Government of God displayed and magnified in the eyes of the whole universe. Let an ingenuous and thoughtful mind pause and enquire how could God exhibit His infinite abhorrence of sin, and vindicate the holiness of the law; how exact the stern penalty incurred by the one, and meet the unbending requirements of the other- by saving the sinner on the sole basis of Mercy alone? Impossible!
But, behold the plan! The Son of God, by His sinless obedience, has met all the precepts of the Law, magnifying and making it honorable, -the Law Giver thus becoming the Law Fulfiller, and by His sacrificial death has answered all the demands of justice, satisfying its every claim, and paying every farthing of the debt; and now the glory of God appears infinitely greater in the salvation of one sinner than it could have appeared in the eternal destruction of every being of the human race!
Oh what imagination can fully conceive, or language adequately describe, the glory which accrues to God from the Atonement and Sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our hope! Countless worlds, plunged eternally into hell, could never have so exhibited God's holiness and justice and truth, or have presented such a perfect display of His glory before angels, men, and devils, as the sacrifice of His beloved Son upon the cross of Calvary. "I have glorified You on the earth: I have finished the work which You gave me to do."
Behold your true and only hope of heaven! You are, perhaps, bowed to the earth under the sight and conviction of your sinfulness; you have come to the end of all your own doings, perfection, and merit; you are on the brink of despair! Look up! there is hope now! "Christ died for the ungodly." "This Man receives sinners." "He who comes to me I will in no wise cast out." "Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believes." "And when they had nothing to pay He frankly forgave them both." "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin." "By grace are you saved."
With such a cluster of gospel and precious announcements, extending to the most sinful and necessitous, who need despair? who will not hope? Innumerable as your sins are, aggravated as is your guilt, bankrupt of all merit and fitness and claim but that which your character and case as the chief of sinners supplies- you yet may hope in Christ. "Let Israel hope in the Lord," though Israel's name be "of sinners the chief." The only room found for despair beneath the cross is in the case of him who approaches with an unhumbled spirit, an unbroken heart, pleading some worthiness of his own, and with a price in his hand dreaming that salvation may be purchased with the base coin of human merit, religious doings, and creature worthiness.
But no! the character is portrayed, the terms are prescribed, upon the ground of which the 'great salvation' provided by the Father, finished by the Son, and applied by the Spirit, becomes our present, gratuitous, and inalienable possession. "The whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." "Him that comes to me I will in no wise cast out." Hope, then, in Christ Jesus! Hope in His love to receive you; hope in His blood to cleanse you; hope in His righteousness to justify you; hope in His free and boundless grace to accept and save you "just as you are." "Let me not be ashamed of my hope." "Let Israel hope in the Lord."
God is revealed as "the God of hope." An expressive and precious title this! It infinitely surpasses the picture of hope as thus exquisitely painted by a noble poet:
"The rainbow to the storms of life,
The evening beam that smiles the clouds away,
And tints the morrow with prophetic ray."
But what is the most exquisite conception of hope compared with the hope thus portrayed by an inspired pen: "The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit"? On the groundwork of the Atonement of the Son of God, the Father becomes "the God of hope" to all who abjure every other hope, and hope only in Him.
There is no circumstance in which we may be placed, no condition in which we may be involved, no lack or danger or impossibility draping our path with dark and lowering clouds of dark despair, but the soul may yet fix its hope in God. How sweet and assuring is the hope of a child in a parent's love, care, and protection! Such a Father is ours! We may hope in His forgiveness, to cancel our greatest sins; in His wisdom, to guide our most intricate perplexity; in His power, to raise up from the lowest depth; in His love, to soothe our profoundest grief; in His resources, to supply our every need; and in His faithfulness, to make good the word of promise upon which He has caused our souls to hope.
Our folly, yes, our sin, is in building our hope in something other than God. No marvel that our creature cistern- the loveliest should break, mocking and intensifying the thirst it promised to slake. No marvel that our staff- the strongest- should break beneath us, piercing the hand that leant upon it too trustfully and too fondly. Oh, what is the lesson God is daily teaching us, which yet we are so reluctant to learn, but this the folly and the sin of confiding too implicitly in the shadow of creature good, earthly possessions, and human hopes; still more, in self-wisdom, power, and government?
But, let your condition be ever so extreme- human friendship disappointing you, earthly supplies failing you, human sympathy refused you, and dark despair enthroned grimly and coldly upon your heart- there yet is hope in God! The Lord has withered this fleshly arm, and dried up that creature spring, and blown upon this worldly hope, that you might be shut up to Him alone. Never was He so near as at this moment, when human help is far; never so loving, and compassionate, as now, when human love has failed!
"The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God." "For with the Lord there is mercy." What an encouragement have we here to hope in God! There is mercy- infinite mercy, pardoning mercy, justifying mercy, sanctifying mercy, helping mercy- in Him in whom you hope. The Lord "delights in mercy;" and because there is mercy with Him, the child of God, though often brought very low in circumstances and position, may yet hope for succor, comfort, and deliverance. You may not find mercy in the creature, still less in your own self; for, self-reflection, self-reproach, and self-abhorrence, in the remembrance of your sins and backslidings, may place you beyond the region of hope; but, because in Him there is mercy- infinitely precious, overflowing mercy you may 'hope against hope' that God in Christ will never leave you, nor forsake you.
Thus, the encouragement you have to hope in God, when all other hope has expired, springs from that mercy in His nature which has been truly described as His 'darling attribute;' for, "He delights in mercy." "Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon those who fear Him, upon those who hope in His mercy." "Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in You. "
"And with Him is plenteous redemption:" another and a yet more assured ground of hope in the Lord. Redemption is the one and sole foundation of the sinner's hope of heaven. Every ray of hope expired, until re-kindled by Christ, who by His obedience and death "opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers." Amid the agonies of Jesus and the convulsions of nature, hope sat smiling upon the cross; and from out the thunder of the Law and the lightning of justice- the earth quaking, the rocks rending, the sun darkening her sweetest, softest music was heard- "It is finished!" More resplendent still will be her arch, and sweeter still her voice, when, amid the "wreck of matter and the crush of worlds," the "ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads;" and the "New Jerusalem" will be seen "coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." Then will the believer's hope of glory- often obscured, often doubted, yet never entirely relinquished- blaze forth in its unclouded, full-orbed splendor, crowned with glory, honor, and immortality.
"Eternal Hope! when yonder spheres sublime
Pealed their first notes to sound the march of Time,
Your joyous youth began-but not to fade,
When all the sister planets have decayed;
When, wrapped in fire, the realms of ether glow,
And heaven's last thunder shakes the world below,
You, undismayed, shall over the ruins smile,
And light your torch at Nature's funeral-pile."
The believer is "saved by hope." Not that hope is the cause of salvation, but the means of its enjoyment; not salvation, but its end. The regenerate soul is a divine orb of hope circling around its great Center- "the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our hope" -from which it springs, whose glory it reflects, and whose praise it chaunts. A hope of glory which thus has Christ for its foundation, Heaven as its end, must be a "good hope through grace," the possession of which will never make ashamed, but which, like a fine setting sun, will grow larger and brighter, until lost in the fullness and splendor of eternal fruition.
It is "plenteous redemption." All that emanates from God must necessarily be a reflection of Himself. Flowing from the infinity of His nature, it must partake, in some degree, of the plenitude of His Being. Now, no work of God confirms this fact and illustrates this truth as His master work of man's Redemption. In it God unsealed all the resources of His Divinity. By no other means could He have accomplished it. Every atom- so to speak- of Divinity, every perfection of His nature, was employed in working out the plan of human salvation. Had one attribute stood aloof, had one perfection been wanting, the entire scheme would have fallen to the ground. The creation and destruction of myriads of worlds would not, and could not, have supplied such an evidence of His Being, or have made such a display of His glory, as the Redemption of the Church by the sacrifice of His Son. Upon this glorious truth is predicated the blessed announcement that, "with Him is plenteous redemption."
Behold the ground of your hope! Have you been taught by the Holy Spirit your sinfulness and sin? Have you had such an insight into the plague of your heart as to bring you well-near to the verge of despair? Does your guilt appear so heinous as to place you beyond the pale of God's Church and the reach of His salvation? Listen to the declaration- "Let Israel hope in the Lord: for ... with Him is plenteous redemption." Disbelieve it not- reject it not for a moment. When the number of your sins and the turpitude of your guilt exceed the virtue of the blood, and out-distance the grace of Christ, and exhaust the plenitude of God's redemption, then, and not until then, may you abandon yourself to the iron grasp of despair.
Oh, yes! there is with God "plenteous redemption." What case can it not meet? What sin can it not cancel? What sinner can it not save? "Where sin has abounded, grace does much more abound." Where sin has prostrated, grace much more uplifts; where sin has destroyed, grace much more repairs; where sin is victorious, grace is triumphant; where sin has usurped the throne, much more does "grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life."
Sin-burdened soul, there is plenteous redemption for you! "Bread enough in your Father's house, and to spare." "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from ALL sin." Could the plenteousness of His redemption be affirmed in words more touching, or in terms more assuring? "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will ABUNDANTLY PARDON." "You, Lord, are good, and ready to FORGIVE; and PLENTEOUS in mercy unto all those who call upon You." See, then, that, in the stupendous matter of your salvation you do not limit that which in its efficacy Christ has made illimitable; that you append no conditions to that which God has made unconditional; that you attempt not to purchase by fancied worthiness of your own that which the infinite merit of Jesus has made unpurchasable and most free.
A few practical deductions will close this chapter. It follows from the preceding exposition that it is of the utmost importance, of vital moment, that we make sure of the nature and foundation of our hope. There are false hopes of heaven, as there are false hopes of earth. It was a most holy prayer of the Psalmist, which every believer should, in a daily examination of his real state before God, breathe- "Let me not be ashamed of my hope." Oh, what multitudes are cherishing a spurious hope of heaven! building their hope, not upon the Rock Christ Jesus, but upon the quicksand of their own righteousness! Look well, my reader, to the nature and foundation of your hope for the future! In settling the question of its reality, assume nothing as true which has not God's word for its ground and its proof.
It is written: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." It is written: "If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature." It is written: "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." It is written: "He that believes not shall be damned." Heaven and earth shall pass away, with all their greatness and grandeur, but God's word shall never pass away! Look, then, well to your hope after death. See that it is built upon Christ alone- a Divine Redeemer, a Personal Christ, a sin-atoning Savior-Christ, the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, yes, the all and in all of your hope of glory. May the language of the Christian poet embody and express the true foundation of your hope of heaven:
"My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand:
All other ground is sinking sand.
"When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand:
All other ground is sinking sand.
"His oath, the covenant and blood,
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
On CHRIST, the solid ROCK, I stand:
All other ground is sinking sand."
An equally natural, and scarcely less important, deduction from the subject of this chapter, is the necessity of guarding prayerfully and vigilantly against every subtle influence tending to impair the vigor and shade the luster of our hope of heaven. We can but present in a summary form some of the more prevalent and potent influences contributing to this mournful result. The world- its friendships and pursuits, its recreation and religion- is a powerful and ever sleepless foe. Against it we must be on our guard, would we have the lamp of hope burn brightly in the soul. Sin, superficially viewed and lightly committed, unrepented of and unforsaken, will weaken the strongest and shade the brightest hope of the soul. The neglect of public and private means of grace living at a distance from the fountain of atoning blood- the feet daily unwashed, and the conscience unpurified- tampering with error, and listening to false doctrine- the perusal of a light, fictitious, worldly literature- the novels of the day- will certainly and seriously compromise the stability, enjoyment, and brightness of this precious grace of the Spirit.
Oh, guard with sacred jealousy and sleepless watchfulness this holy, heavenly light "the God of hope" has kindled within your soul, more vigilantly than the vestal virgin, her lamp; or the priest, the temple light of God's house. "Every man that has this hope in Him (Christ) purifies himself, even as He is pure." And "in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began," see that you "present your body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." The God of hope grant that, by the avoidance of these evils, and the cultivation of these means, your hope of heaven, like the sun kissing the horizon, may grow larger and more brilliant, until it sets in the glory and splendor of perfect and endless day! Then, "your sun shall no more go down; neither shall your moon withdraw itself, for the LORD shall be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended."
"The hope that is laid up for you in heaven" -how comforting, sustaining, and sanctifying! Your path to its full realization will, in many of its stages, be thorny and shaded, trying and lonely. If there is a royal road to heaven, it is that traveled by the King Himself, impurpled with His blood, vocal with His groans, and hallowed with His strong crying and tears. Along this road we are traveling. And how blessed and assured the hope! It is the hope of dwelling forever in our Father's home! Over its threshold sickness shall no more pass, spreading its mantle of suffering, languor, and decay! Bereavement shall never enter- with its shadow, bitterness, and separation! Sin shall not intrude- tainting, wounding, beclouding! Affliction, trial, and pain shall be utterly and forever unknown, no more wringing the heart with anguish, and mantling the soul with woe. Perfectly holy, the soul will be supremely happy, forever with kindred spirits, "AND FOREVER WITH THE LORD."
Let nothing move you from this hope. Let not prosperity or adversity, the creature or the world, induce you for a moment to relinquish your hold- shaded and feeble though your hope of heaven, through Jesus, may be. It may be but a ray- the faintest scintillation- nevertheless, "hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering." "Cast not away therefore your confidence, which has great recompense of reward."
Has the last sickness come? Is death approaching- heart and flesh failing, Jordan's waves murmuring at your feet? Oh, cling only and firmly to Christ! Look not so much to your hope as to Him who is your hope! The realization may be feeble and fluctuating, the prospect of heaven misty and dim; nevertheless, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." Your hope may wane, its pendulum may oscillate as between earth and heaven, but its Object and its End are as fixed, immovable, and stable as the throne of the Eternal. "Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters into that within the veil; where the Forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus."
How soothing to the sad hour of bereavement is the hope of a certain reunion and individual recognition of the loved ones who have a little while preceded us to glory! If in heaven we are not to know and not to love those whom on earth we knew and loved, with whom we took sweet counsel and traveled many a weary stage of our journey, then one essential element of heaven's happiness would be lacking, which even earth, with all its sin and sorrow, affords. "I must confess," says the holy Baxter, "as the experience of my soul, that the expectation of loving my friend in heaven powerfully kindles my love to them while on earth. If I thought I should never know, and consequently never love them after this life, I should remember them with temporal things, and love them as such; but I now delightfully commune with my pious friends, in a firm persuasion that I shall commune with them forever; and I take comfort in those that are dead or absent, believing that I shall shortly meet them in heaven, and love them with a heavenly love." They are there waiting and looking for our coming!
Fight on, toil on, hope on, you soldier of Christ, you laborer for Jesus, you tried and suffering one! Soon you shall put off your travel-stained garments, unclasp your dust-covered sandals, lay down your pilgrim-staff; and, attired in glory-robes, enter the palace, and feast your eyes upon the beauty of the King forever. "The golden palace of my God,
Towering above the clouds, I see;
Beyond the cherubs' bright abode,
Higher than angels' thoughts can be!
How can I in those courts appear
Without a wedding garment on?
Conduct me, You Life-Giver, there;
Conduct me to Your glorious throne!
And clothe me with Your robes of light,
And lead me through sin's darkest night."