By John Angell James, 1859


"May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us, and has given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace." 2 Thes. 2:16

There is a richness of expression in these few words to which no exposition or paraphrase can do justice. Every view we can take of the Christian hope, entitles it to this description.

The Christian's hope is good ABSOLUTELY. Good in its foundation—which is Christ; good in its object—which is heaven; good in its influence—which is holiness; good in its power to support and comfort under all the trials of life; good for all people, from the prince to the peasant; good for all occasions, for prosperity and adversity; good through all the journey of life, and amid all the agonies of death. Whoever tried it and found it otherwise than good? Was this adjective ever more truly or more appropriately applied to any object? Will not the believer who entertains it, and feels its blessed influence, joyfully exclaim, "Yes, if there is anything good on earth, anything in me, anything in true religion—it is this! Whatever good things I have—this is best. I would part with all, rather than this; and if, on the deprivation of property, friends, health, I were asked what I had left, I would answer from the midst of surrounding evils, 'A good hope through grace!' and feel that, having nothing else but this, I should account myself possessing all things."

What multitudes have experienced all this, and found that Christian hope has stood by them, when everything else had fled. As the sun converts clouds to a glorious drapery, painting them with gorgeous hues, and arraying the whole horizon with its magnificent costumes—so a believing and radiant heart lets forth its hope upon its sorrows, and all the blackness flies off; and troubles, that seemed likely to extinguish it, serve only as a theater to display its glory! Is not this good?

The Christian's hope is good COMPARATIVELY. "And this world is fading away, along with everything it craves. But if you do the will of God, you will live forever." 1 John 2:17. How insignificant, trivial, and paltry, are the objects of worldly desire and expectation! What are wealth, rank, fame, pleasure—compared with the glory, honor, immortality, and eternal life, which the believer looks for beyond the grave? They are all of the earth earthly—this is heavenly; they are human—this divine; they are transient—this everlasting; they are unsatisfying, leaving the soul a void unfilled—this replenishing its vast capacity; they are fleeting, shadowy, and precarious—this absolutely certain; they are the toys of children, compared with the occupations of a Newton, when handling his telescope, surveying the heavens, ascertaining and contemplating the stars, with his bosom swelling with the hope of discoveries that will instruct the world and immortalize himself; they leave the poor, craving soul, exclaiming, "Who will show us any good?"—this compels him, with rapture, to exclaim, "I have found it! I have found it!"

Compare this hope with that of the HEATHEN, and see how good it, is. How dim and uncertain were the views of the wisest, and best of these, as set forth in the doubting expectations of Cicero, the loftiest speculations of Plato, and the dying prospects of Socrates. Were these sages of Greece, these lights of the ancient world, to revisit our earth with no more knowledge than they carried away with them, they might thankfully sit at the feet of a heaven-taught Sunday-school girl, and from her lips learn lessons of immortality, which their discoveries never enabled them to reach.

As a proof of this, I refer to their sayings. The hope of immortality is styled by Cicero—"A conjecture or surmise of future ages." Seneca says—"It is that which our wise men only promise—but do not prove." Socrates, at his death, said—"I hope to go hence to good men—but of that I am not very confident; nor does it become any wise man to be positive that so it will be. I must now die, and you shall live—but which of us is in the better state, God only knows." Pliny says—"Neither soul nor body has any more sense after death, than before it was born" Aristotle held "that death was terrible, as putting an end to all things." Plutarch called it "The fabulous hope of immortality." How evident is it, from the experience and testimony of such men, that mere human reason is inadequate to the discovery of a future state; and that nothing could make this certain to man, except a revelation from God. The trial never could have been made with greater advantages than by the philosophers of Greece and Rome; and these confessed that they could arrive at no certainty on the subject. In this state of things the gospel comes with its glorious discoveries, abolishes death—that is, renders its reign but transient; and establishes the fact, not only of the immortality of the soul—but of the resurrection of the body; thus solving the great and stupendous problem of man's nature and destiny—and bringing in everlasting consolation, and a good hope through grace.

MOHAMMEDANISM speaks of its Paradise—but how groveling, how sensual, how unworthy the soul of man. The false prophet accommodates his heaven to the carnal and lowest passions of our nature, and holds out to the faithful little more or better than the lecherous harem of an Eastern despot. He carries his sensual system into the celestial state, and peoples his eternal world with a race of voluptuaries. What a contrast is here presented to the Christian Paradise, where flesh and blood are excluded, with all their grosser appetites and propensities; and not only is the soul perfect in purity—but even the body is too spiritual for the sensual passions of the flesh.

Little better is the Elysium of the classic nations of GREECE and ROME, or rather of their poets—and it was only poetry. If we consult Homer, Virgil, Pindar, and others, these rise no higher than converse with gods which are themselves stained with crime—and this communion maintained amid green bowers, gliding streams, murmuring springs, verdant meadows, and warbling of birds. Others add mirth and sensual delight. True it is, some of their philosophers turned away in partial disgust from these base views, yet they had nothing better to substitute, which could be relied upon with certainty. Now and then a dim ray of light seemed to pierce the clouds of mortality, and point to a region beyond—but while the eye of reason looked at it, it vanished like a meteor, and left the benighted, bewildered philosopher in all his doubt and darkness. I need not further enlarge upon this, than to contrast Cicero's skeptical statement of the coming day of transition from earth to heaven, with Paul's triumphant confidence, where he says—"We know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens!"

There was Paganism, straining her exploring eye over the dark abyss of the grave, with feeble fluttering hope, and strong prevailing fear, holding up her dark lantern—but gaining no discovery—uttering her inquiring voice—but receiving no response—all was dark and silent to her. Here, is Christianity, gazing with steady faith, living hope, and enraptured view, amid the broad daylight of revelation, on those sweet fields beyond the swelling flood which stand dressed with living green, and adorned with the at amaranthine flowers of the celestial Paradise. Oh, precious gospel, which has thus laid open to us not only the GLORY—but the CERTAINTY of a future state of bliss!

It is hardly worth while to bring into the comparison those monstrous, absurd, and groveling representations of the future state, which are the products of MODERN PAGANISM—the transmigration of souls of the Eastern world from body to body, through millions of ages, until they are at last absorbed in the gods; or the hunting grounds and pleasures of the hunt, which form the future of savage tribes. Who can contemplate these varied—but groveling and uncertain expectations, held by the ancient and modern heathen, and not see, comparing them with the Christian faith, the truth and force of the apostle's description, when he calls it a good hope?

Compare it with the hope of the JEW. How scanty were the revelations of a future state under the Old Testament. How seldom did the sun of the celestial world seem to break through the clouds and shadows of the Levitical economy, and throw its luster on the path of even the pious Israelite. In what gloom and deep dejection did he approach the sepulcher. Where in all the law, the psalms, the prophets, do we find those triumphant anticipations of eternal glory, which are so frequent in the writings of holy Paul? Where do we see the ancient believer looking up into heaven with the exulting expectation that he shall soon be there with God and his saints? How rarely did David strike his harp or tune his voice in praise of the heaven to come. How seldom did even the evangelical prophet Isaiah rise high on the wing of prophecy until he bathed his spirit in the flood of the excellent glory, and then descended to tell the visions he had seen. One chapter, I might almost say one verse, of the New Testament, tells us more of the celestial world, as to the reality and nature of its felicities, than all the pages of the Old Testament. So true are the apostle's words already quoted—"He has abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light by the gospel."

Is it not, then, a good hope that Christians have? And then, just for a moment, dwell on its SOURCE, as expressed in this verse, "a good hope through grace." Any hope, the expectation of the smallest favor—even the shortening of the duration of punishment, or lightening the weight of punishment—would be favor. Annihilation would be mercy, for sinners who deserved to be plunged in eternal despair; just as any situation on earth might be esteemed a favor for a man who had been condemned to die, and deserved it. It would have been grace to be merely exempted from the bitter pains of eternal death—though our eternal destiny had been to dwell in some world far from God's presence, and with only some few comforts to make existence tolerable. It would have been a display of grace, rich grace—to bestow upon us all the glories of Paradise for ten thousand ages—and then to extinguish our existence forever. Had we never heard of eternal life, and had this been presented to us as the object of Christian desire and expectation—we would have considered it as a manifestation of abounding favor.

But for sinners who had deserved hell to have such a hope as ours—the hope of everlasting life, with all that can make existence a blessing; to have a hope founded on the incarnation, sufferings, and death of the Son of God; to be brought by the new creating power of God into the possession of this hope—is it not a display of grace which will fill the universe with astonishment, and our eternity with wonder and with praise?