By John Angell James, 1859


"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!"—1 Peter 1:3.

In this very comprehensive and beautiful passage, the apostle Peter, like his brother Paul in the commencement of his epistle to the Ephesians, introduces his subject by bursting abruptly into a hymn of thanksgiving. His heart was full to overflowing of wonder, gratitude and love, and he could not content himself with a mere cold formal statement of the marvelous grace of God. He first ascends to the source of the blessings he was about to enumerate, and finds it only in the abundant mercy of God.

There is no attribute of God on which as sinners, we so much depend as upon mercy; and there is no one attribute therefore, about which so much is said in Scripture as this. Mercy is the spring and fountainhead of the blessings here enumerated, our regeneration and adoption into the family of God; our heavenly inheritance; and our preservation to the vast and eternal possession.

It is the living hope, however, that is the subject of our present remarks. To this we are "begotten," that is, we are first made children, and then, as such, being endowed with an eternal inheritance, we, as children, being entitled to it, through the work of Christ, hope for it. And to this we are begotten "by the resurrection of Christ." In an earlier part of this work I have shown that hope must be preceded by faith, and is founded upon faith. We must first believe that there is a heaven, and that it is obtainable by us, or we cannot hope for it; and if we do believe, we must of necessity hope. Whatever therefore produces faith, and strengthens it—must beget hope as well. The resurrection of Christ is the sum and substance of all the evidence of the divinity of his mission, of the truth of his doctrines, and of course of the gospel of our salvation. It is a cloud of witnesses in itself, and therefore believing this great fact, we are, through the grace of God, brought to hope. But more than this, the resurrection of Christ is the proof and pledge of ours. Believing in his resurrection, we believe our own; for he rose not as a private individual—but as our representative. Thus our faith is confirmed, established, supported by his resurrection, and we are begotten to a living hope.

But I intend now to dwell on this characteristic of our hope, as "a LIVING" one. True personal religion is the opposite of any unregenerate state, which is, a state of spiritual death; the unconverted sinner is "dead in trespasses and sins." Hence true religion is spiritual life. It is a living, moving, active principle in man's soul. He has been quickened from a death of sin to a life of holiness. His religious exercises are not the motions of an automaton—but the self-moved actions of a living being. His soul is alive to God, to Christ, to holiness, to heaven. Now, just as in the tree, each branch, and leaf, and fruit, lives by the principle of vegetable life in the root; and as in the body, the principle of animal life diffuses its influence into each and all the members and organs; as the foot moves, the hand works, the eye sees, and the tongue speaks by the principle of animal life—so, as regards true religion, all its graces act from the spiritual life in the soul. Faith is a living faith, hope is a living hope, love is a living love. The apostle, it is true, speaks of a dead faith—but this indeed is no faith at all; so we may speak of a dead hope, which is none at all. If there be in reality a hope, it must be a living one.

Nearly all the people in Christian lands profess to have hope—but in multitudes of cases it is a dead one; it breathes not, moves not, speaks not; it neither makes them holy nor happy; it neither animates to duty, restrains from sin, nor supports under suffering. It is a mere profession. Is it not much to be feared that this is all that many professors of religion, many members of our churches, have in this day? I would not be uncharitable—but I must express my apprehensions, fearful as they are, that large numbers in this day of 'easy profession', have nothing but a dead faith and a dead hope. Their profession, instead of being the coat of a spiritually living man, is the shroud of a dead one. Judging from their conduct, we must conclude that they have neither desire nor expectation of eternal life.

Christian professor, let me ask you—what does your hope do for you? Consider that true hope is not a desire fixed on a trifle, which must be a trifling desire, exciting no emotion, producing no action, awakening no concern. True hope is desire of salvation, of eternal life, of immortal glory. Can such an expectation, if it really exist, lie dormant in the soul, an ineffective, inoperative thing, producing no joy, no concern, no activity? Impossible! Let every one, therefore, solemnly ask himself this simple question—What does my anticipation of heaven do for me? Is it alive in me? Does it move? Does it act? Does it stimulate me to duty, restrain me from sin, comfort me in trouble? Are my character and conduct in any degree those of a man who has fixed his eye, his heart, his expectation on eternal life? If not, my hope is a dead one—a name and a delusion.

In opposition to this, the hope of a really converted man is a living one. The word signifies a vigorous, active, spirit-stirring principle—as opposed to the cold, faint belief of Heathenism. It is an earnest desire and confident expectation of everlasting life. This desire and expectation is such as employs the thoughts and kindles the affections. It acts on the soul, as regards spiritual and eternal objects—just as earthly desires and expectations do towards their objects. If a man is looking forward with confident expectation of some great earthly good, some cherished object which is to influence all his future life—it is uppermost in his mind, it engages his heart, it employs his tongue, it stimulates his activity. If he receives some lesser good, "Oh," he says, "but I have something far greater to come!" If he has sustained a loss, he replies, "I shall soon have ample compensation for this!" If he is in trouble, he cheers his mind with the anticipation of the expected good. If solicited to engage in any project which would divert his mind from this, he exclaims, "No! I cannot allow anything to interfere with my one great object!" This is a living hope. And so is it with the man who has really set his heart upon salvation and eternal life.

I am ready to admit that it is with spiritual life as it is with natural—it may exist in various degrees. There may be vitality where there is not vivacity. There may be life so feeble as scarcely to be perceived or felt—and there may be vitality in such vigor as to give rise to the expression, "He is full of life!" In reference to the two terms, "living" and "lively," a hope may, in a very modified sense, be a living one, yet not a lively one; and on that account I am almost ready to prefer the adverb of our translators to the proposed substitute. The original comprehends both.

There are many who are spiritually alive—but not very lively. They have desires—but how lukewarm. They have hope—but how uncertain and fluttering. They do not give up the idea of their being Christians, and reaching heaven at last—but amid what doubts and fears these expectations are indulged. In duty, how backward; in spirit, how worldly; in trouble, how disconsolate. How deficient in spirituality and heavenly-mindedness. O, you half-hearted, worldly-minded, lukewarm professors, I call upon you "to strengthen the things which remain, and are ready to die!" You have only that measure of life which is next akin to death, and is in peril of becoming such!

Believers, be contented with nothing short of a lively—as well as living expectation—which shall be an unfailing source of both consolation and holiness; which lifts up your head and keeps it up, when passing through the rivers of affliction; which remains, when everything else is gone; which opens a fountain amid broken cisterns; which lives in death, and exhibits heaven to the eye in the dark valley; and which judgment and eternity do not destroy—but only consummate. Let the full tide of spiritual life be poured into this—as one of the many channels through which its holy stream is to flow!