By John Angell James, 1859


Having already sent forth a treatise on both FAITH and LOVE, which have met with much acceptance from the public, I felt a natural and not an unworthy desire to complete the consideration of the apostolic trio of Christian graces, by issuing another on HOPE.

The importance of the subject justifies this attempt to bring it somewhat more fully before the lovers of practical Christian literature. HOPE is in fact the substance of the New Testament; the end of redemption; the glory of Christianity; and the antidote of nature's supreme evil. It goes with us where all other subjects leave us—to the entrance of the dark valley of the shadow of death; and when every other light is extinguished, furnishes us with the only lamp that can guide us through the domain of death, to the realms of glory, honor, and immortality. Thus it accomplishes what the human understanding never could achieve, by solving the sublimely tremendous problem of man's existence beyond the grave.

'Unaided reason' never did, and never could, arrive at a satisfactory conclusion regarding the immortality of the soul and a future state of happiness. It could not be sure that the soul survives the wreck of its material frame; for some appearances are against it, which the presumptive arguments in favor of it are too feeble to refute. If it could prove this fact—of the soul's existence beyond the grave—still it could not demonstrate, nor scarcely hope, that it would be immortal—for eternity seems to be an attribute too vast for any one but God himself. If by any means it could persuade itself of this, it would be unable to prove that the soul would enter upon its felicity immediately after death. Equally uncertain would it be, of what that future felicity consists; still more would it be at a loss to know by what means celestial happiness was to be obtained, and how the sinful, earthly spirit of man was to be fitted for its enjoyment.

All these questions being satisfactorily solved, there would yet remain the unrelieved, unbelievable doubt, whether this immortal existence and felicity were intended for all that wear the form of man, for the swarming millions of the human race, the countless multitudes descending to the lowest grade of humanity, or only for the choice and best of mankind. Thus, at every step of the inquiry, 'unaided reason' is bewildered, and sees shadows, clouds, and darkness resting upon her horizon. To all this these questions, her oracle is silent, or gives out only vague responses, doubtful and delusive.

To settle these points, it was necessary that God himself should speak. He has spoken, and it is the glory of revelation, that it does not hold out mere dim and obscure disclosures—but throws a flood of noontide radiance upon all these solemn and momentous inquiries. With what glowing raptures should we bless God for that gospel which brings life and immortality to light, and meets the deepest cravings of the soul. A poet has sung, in the charms of verse, "The Pleasures of Hope." It is for the Christian, with his Bible opening a vista into heaven, to realize and enjoy them.

To the subject of this volume I have also been in some measure led by my own circumstances. In the seventy-third year of my life, and the fifty-third of my ministry, I have no need of a special revelation to assure me that "I must shortly put off this my tabernacle"—by the course of nature, this cannot be far off. The shadows of evening are gathering fast and thick around me, and I find it most consoling, on the border country of the world unseen, to go forward into what would be otherwise a dark unknown, guided and cheered by a hope full of immortality. I am induced to believe that what has comforted me in the preparation of the work, may by perusal be a source of consolation to others.

Many things are most accurately seen, in their relative importance, when viewed in the decline of life. It is in the calm of the evening, and not during the heat, and bustle, and burden of the day, that men in trade best judge of the objects which have engaged their attention in the hours of business. So it is with the Christian, in reflecting upon his religious life—and especially with the Christian minister, in looking back upon the pursuits of his official career.

I am not even now indifferent to many lesser matters of Christian truth; but compared with Faith, Hope, and Love, these things now appear to me only as the skeleton to the living body of Christianity. No man will be either saved or lost by the principles of church government—but by his possession or his destitution of these graces. There are many ways to perdition—but ecclesiastical polity is not one of them. There is only one way of salvation, and that is, not Episcopacy, Presbyterianism, Methodism, nor Congregationalism; but repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Along the bye-paths of each of these systems many are continually coming into the King's high-road to eternal life. This should make us charitable to each other, and convince us upon what objects our attention and our zeal should be chiefly concentrated; for is it not pitiable to see men spending so much of their time and energy upon the unprescribed formalities of a ceremonial externalism, to the comparative neglect of Faith, Hope, and Love?

Most sad is it, that in the middle of the nineteenth century of Christian era, so many of its professors should have, if not to learn, yet to remember, that "the kingdom of God is not food and drink" nor creed and ceremony—but "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." Our holy religion, as exhibited on the page of ecclesiastical history, and of theological controversy, has, to its own disparagement, been too often made to appear more like a fury than a seraph; a demon of destruction, rather than a ministering angel; and brandishing a sword, instead of holding out the olive branch of peace. O that some voice, loud enough to be heard throughout Christendom, and powerful enough to be universally obeyed, would summon us all round the fount of inspired truth, first to purify our much abused vision from the scales of error and prejudice, and then to learn that real Christianity consists of the three apostolic graces; while all else is but her earthly attire, which may vary in fashion and color, without affecting her substance and life, or destroying her symmetry. Had this been understood, believed, remembered, and practiced from the beginning, what monstrous systems of error; what iron yokes of spiritual tyranny; what bloody persecutions; what ecclesiastic arrogance and presumption; what disfigurements of the simple and spiritual religion of the meek and lowly Jesus, by pagan rites and external ceremonies; what foul blots upon the fair form of Christianity, would the world have been spared!

Amid the controversies and decrees of church councils, how has the still small voice of the apostle been stifled, which says, "Now abides faith, hope, love, these three—but the greatest of these is love." How forward have men been to admire this sacred trio—but how slow to imitate them. Poets have sung their charms; painters have delineated their beauty; music chanted their praises; and eloquence emblazoned their worth—what remains but for preachers to make them the prevailing themes of their ministry, and for professing Christians to exhibit them in the practice of their lives. When this shall every where be done, and they shall universally come in place of a heartless orthodoxy and an external ritualism, then the world will see Christianity as she is, and will covet to be like her; but, until then, multitudes will look upon Christianity with suspicion, and not a few turn from her with disgust!

Our great concern should be to promote a healthful, spiritual, robust, and godly piety in our churches; for which no external improvements in our architecture, our music, or our services, can be a substitute. What we should seek to maintain in our denomination, is the more powerful dominion of faith, hope, and love, compared with which, many of those matters which are now rife among us, are but of very small importance. Provided, however, our supreme, constant, and vigilant concern be directed to the preservation of vital Christianity, and to that sound doctrine from which alone it can proceed, there is no harm, and will be no danger, in any attention we may pay to matters of religious tastefulness.

Ministers may have, should have, ought to have, great stores of knowledge, and yet be "apt to teach." Simplicity of communication is not incompatible with profundity of possession, nor is earnestness opposed to elegance. Where there is no heresy of doctrine, nor even any lack of evangelical truth, there may be so much of excessive elaboration, and of "the enticing words of man's wisdom, as to make the cross of Christ of none effect." The gospel may be preached—but with so much of studied intellectualism of style, so much of mere evangelical theory and Christian science, and in so heartless a manner, as to be likely to produce little effect. It is too much forgotten, both by preachers and hearers, that it is truth, and not talent merely, that feeds the soul of the Christian; and the truth addressed not only to the intellect, in the way of logical argument—but to the heart and the conscience, with earnest warmth, and urgent importunity.

FAITH, HOPE, and LOVE, which are, or ought to be, the great themes of the Christian ministry, are something more than matters of theory—mere theses for the theologian to discuss before an audience. They are matters of eternal life or death, and should be preached as if the preachers believed them to be so. The more talent that is brought to such themes the better, provided it be the object of the talent to make the truth understood, felt, and believed. The gospel is worthy of the noblest intellects, and it is a kind of profanity to touch and teach it ignorantly, carelessly, and feebly. High philosophical and metaphysical intellectualism is indeed a luxury for many; but after all is not so adapted to the mental constitution and spiritual health of the great mass of our congregations—as plainer and simpler food. And is it not by the necessaries of life—good, substantial, nutritive diet—that our corporeal frame is nourished and strengthened, rather than by the highly-wrought inventions of the culinary art?

We might fairly ask, who are the preachers and what is their style of preaching, by whom the minds of men have been stirred, their hearts changed, and their souls saved? What is needed for the great bulk of the people is the earnest popular preaching of the gospel—the power of vigorous thinking in plain language—a somewhat pictorial style addressed at once to the imagination, the heart, and the conscience, as well as to the judgment—and all this in a lively elocution.

I confess, however, to a little jealousy of some recent schemes for interesting the masses of our population in the subject of true religion. I do not presume to judge and condemn those who have adopted them—but I somewhat question their propriety. The gospel of our salvation is so momentous a subject to man's eternal welfare; there is such a dreadful and deadly apathy concerning true religion lying on the great mass of the population; the ordinary methods have proved so insufficient to rouse them from their stupor, that I am quite prepared to go considerable lengths in carrying out the apostle's principle, "if by any means I might save some." But there is a limit even to this, and there is, I think, a danger of passing that limit, in this age. A craving appetite for novelty and excitement may be created, which will be increased by indulgence, and continually require fresh stimulants; until all extraordinary means fail, and ordinary ones then become flat, tasteless, and neglected. Nothing but the earnest, intelligent, popular, and attractive preaching of the gospel, carried on with a deep sympathy and a loving spirit for the masses of the people, and a multiplication of places for their accommodation, will meet their case.

These remarks will be considered by many a long digression from the subject of my book. I know that in some measure they are. But as I shall not have many more opportunities, if any, of speaking from the press, I have determined to embrace the present one, to give utterance to a few thoughts on some prevailing topics of the day. It may be a feeble testimony I deliver—but it is an earnest and concerned one.

Now, for a short space, I return to the ensuing pages. These pretend to nothing new, original, or eloquent—nothing racy, brilliant, or amusing—nothing for the scholar, philosopher, or even profound theologian—but still much that is true and important—much that by God's grace may be useful to the children of His redeemed family, if indeed they desire to read to profit and not to cavil or to criticize—if, in short, they are really anxious to grow in FAITH, HOPE, and LOVE. And they cannot be Christians if they do not. I write plain truths, in plain language, for plain people; and if they are profited, I have reached the measure of my ambition.

We sometimes, in the department of the fine arts, meet with a painting that professes to be "after the old masters." It may be very inferior—but it has something of their subject, spirit, and manner. I make a similar pretension, and have written this book after "the old authors," and under the humbling consciousness of its immeasurable inferiority—am in no danger of being proud of my success. I am a warm but discriminating admirer of those great men of the seventeenth century, especially of Hall, Taylor, and Barrow, among the Episcopalians, and Howe, Baxter, and some works of Owen, among the Nonconformists. I am aware of their faults; but O, their matchless excellences! How much would it conduce to the usefulness of their preaching, and the edification of their flocks, if our young ministers made themselves more acquainted with the immortal productions of these illustrious men; and uniting their affluence of thought with modern accuracy and elegance, this would give that power to the pulpit, which at present, in the opinion of many, it has lost.

If any of the readers of this volume should have perused my work, entitled "The Course of Faith," they will find some few repetitions of the thoughts, and perhaps of the language, contained in that work—especially in the chapters on Assurance and Heaven. It was impossible to avoid this, as the graces of faith and hope touch each other in some points so closely. So also there will be found occasional repetitions in one part, of what was stated in others—a thought or a text being expanded in one place, which was only glanced at in another. The different aspects and relations of Hope, though on some points dissimilar, are in others alike. Repetitions, however, are not always redundancies—they abound in Scripture.