By John Angell James, 1859


"Hope makes not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which he has given to us."—Romans 5:6.

This is a high commendation of the grace we are now considering; one that by contrast will come home to the heart of every believer. It is a peculiarity which can be scarcely affirmed of any other expectation. Can the man of wealth, of pleasure, or of ambition—say this of the object of his pursuit and possession? Perhaps the apostle, when he wrote this passage, thought of that declaration of the Psalmist—"Our fathers trusted in you, and were not confounded"— Psalm 22:4-5. It is the true wisdom of faith, to strengthen itself by making a discreet yet bold and unhesitating use of the experience of others. Especially should the children of the godly, in their religious course and conflicts, apply for their encouragement what their pious ancestors have testified, and, in pleading with God, make use of his dealings with them as a ground of confidence for themselves.

There are three grounds, and only three, on which men can be ashamed of their hopes—

1. When in better states of mind, and in clearer views of the subject, they find that they have desired and perhaps have obtained, a wrong thing—a thing which no right-minded man ought to have coveted and sought. How large a portion of man's earthly desires and expectations are fixed on objects which true religion, reason, and conscience—at length tell them are forbidden by God. It is awful to think what a preponderance of human energy, in many men's pursuits, is going forth after illicit gains and pleasures! In some few cases, alas, how few—they are at last brought to see their iniquity, and to blush over it! They discover, to their shame and confusion, that they had been kindling unhallowed fires in their soul, and, like Balaam, resolutely going forward in a forbidden path. Oh, the confusion, humiliation, and deep compunction which some have felt in looking back upon past objects of desire and expectation. Bad hopes have caused bitter tears to myriads!

It is of course a mercy to find out that they were bad, and to abandon them—but how much greater a mercy never to have had them! And this is the climax of all mercy to know, as the Christian does, that his is a "good hope." His desires and expectations are indulged under the approving smile of true piety, reason, and conscience. Who ever blushed over the hope of heaven? Let the Christian raise his desires to the greatest intensity, let him carry his expectations up to the highest pitch, he never need to check his ardor; he never need to say, "Am I right in all this?" May I not be yet ashamed of having thought, and felt, and wished, and labored so earnestly?

2. Men are ashamed of hopes that end in utter disappointment. Of the objects of earthly pursuit, how many turn out to be mere shadows? Think what millions every day sit down in grief and dismay, amid the wreck of shattered schemes, and then lay their heads at night upon their pillows—to pass the sleepless hours of silence and darkness in ruminating upon defeated purposes and frustrated expectations. How much of human grief arises from this source!

True it is, that in multitudes of these cases men are the victims of folly—as well as of disappointment. They had been employed in building 'castles in the air'. Their desires were the offspring of unholy ambition—and their hopes had no other basis than their own wild imaginations. Observers saw, if they themselves did not, that there was no probability in their prospects; their hopes were the speculations of their imaginations, and they therefore deserved the disappointment they experienced. But this does not apply to all.

Even those who are most moderate in their desires, and most sober in their expectations, who have reason, true religion and conscience on their side, and are thus justified both by God and man in their plans—even these are doomed oftentimes to disappointment. It is said of God, in dealing with us, "He disappoints the hope of man." I admit that in such cases there may be no shame felt over the object selected, or the means used; no consciousness of guilt, no blushing for folly—but still, in a mitigated and figurative sense, even such people are ashamed of their hopes.

This will not apply to the Christian. No disappointment awaits him. He, in his expectations of life eternal, is building no castles in the air. His is "a sure and certain hope." Its foundation is the work of Christ, the promise and oath of God. Should he even be mistaken in his faith—should he have been following only cunningly-devised fables in resting his belief on the gospel of Christ—should he sink at death into annihilation, even in that case he would not live to blush; he will have no existence, and therefore have no consciousness of disappointment. But this is a mere 'negative view' of the subject.

The gospel is not a cunningly-devised fable, or a divine revelation; he will live, and will realize his expectation, and have his desires gratified. No, no! wherever there is disappointment elsewhere—there will be none here. His most assured earthly expectations may fail; what appear to be substances may be only shadows; what seemed to be stars may be only meteors. But this awaits not the Christian. Heaven is no mere speculation. It is a glorious certainty. All the evidences of Christianity, as a revelation from God, sustain his anticipations. Doubts and fears now sometimes, like fleecy clouds swimming over the sun's disc, occasionally throw their shadows on his path, and for a little while darken his prospect—but even these will all vanish, and the whole scene of heavenly glory, will shine out in cloudless and eternal splendor.

3. But there is another cause of men's being ashamed of their earthly hopes, and that is, the disproportion between the expectation and the fruition. How far short, in most cases, does the reality fall of the anticipation—"Hope tells a flattering tale," and always looks at its object through a magnifying medium, and usually one of high power—and paints it also in colors supplied rather by the imagination than the judgment. To him who surveys the prospect from an eminence, where everything looks beautiful, the cottage and the homestead are all picturesque—but how different an aspect does it wear when these parts of the picture are surveyed near at hand, with the dirty heaps, and broken windows, and shattered doors, and other signs of poverty, which distance had hidden from view. So is it with our hopes. Distance lends enchantment to the scene, which usually dissolves on a near approach.

How few of our expectations have been realized up to their full amount. How often, when we have gained the object of desire and pursuit, have we exclaimed, with surprise and grief—"And is this all? O you mirthful deceiver, how have you beguiled and cheated me. Have all your promises come to this?" In ordinary cases this is true, and in some it is absolutely afflictive. How much time, strength, energy and money have been sometimes expended upon an object of desire; what expectations have been indulged; what bright visions have been raised; what blissful anticipations have been let loose; what large calculations of coming enjoyment have been made, and all this to issue in the sad confession, "Is this all?" Must not such a man be ashamed of his hope?

Again, I triumphantly say that this will never happen to the Christian when he reaches heaven. He will never have to say, "Is this all?" The Queen of Sheba, when she saw the glory of Solomon, confessed, with delighted surprise, "That the half had not been told to her." And the glorified spirit will declare that a thousandth part had not been told. A thousandth part of heaven would a thousand times more than compensate—for all the time, the energy, the strength we have spent in seeking after it! Could heaven only be obtained by a thousand martyrdoms, successively endured—it would be a cheap purchase of "the incorruptible, undefiled inheritance, which does not fade away."

If there be shame in heaven it will not be that our hopes were so high—but that they were so low; not that we expected too much—but too little. How will it surprise us as we walk the golden streets, that we could, with such a prospect before us, dwell so little upon it. No taunt will be thrown at us from any quarter, "See what your hope has come to—do you not blush to compare the reality with the expectation?"

But now dwell upon the logic of the apostle, as well as upon his assertion, "Hope makes not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Spirit, which he has given to us." The "love of God" is an ambiguous phrase, and means, in some places, God's love to us, and in others, our love to God. Commentators are divided in opinion, as to which of these the apostle refers to in this passage. By a proper explanation, I think both may be included. When a person loves us, and is kind to us, he sheds abroad upon us his love—by conferring upon us its fruits. His love is inherent in himself—it is its gifts that are bestowed upon us. And yet, in common parlance, we say he has bestowed much kindness upon us.

God sheds abroad his love in our hearts, by giving us the Holy Spirit. Now the Spirit of God, by his work in us, gives us assurance that our hope will never make us ashamed; and he does this in two ways.

First—By giving us a foretaste, pledge, and fitness of the heavenly inheritance. He imparts such a bright view, and such a deep sense of God's love to us, and causes this so to fill the heart with joy unspeakable, as to convince the soul, from its happiness in this world, that in the full enjoyment of this love in heaven, there will be no disappointment. Some believers, as John Howe, Halyburton, Payson, and others, have had such a perception and sense of God's love, as was almost overpowering—and even believers of less stature have known something of this. There are moments in the life of all real Christians, when their views and sense of God's love, in itself and in its gifts, are so vivid, as to lead them to say, "No—this cannot be delusion—this frame of mind must be God's work; and if, in this world of ignorance, and earthliness, and imperfection, there is such happiness—what will heaven be, where the sun of God's love will, without any intervening clouds, pour its full effulgence upon my happy spirit?"

Then the work of the Holy Spirit is not only to reveal God's love to us—but to produce in us love to God in return. "We love him," said the apostle, "because he first loved us." In ordinary cases, love generally produces love. It always does here. Wherever the Holy Spirit really gives a clear view and deep sense of God's love to us, he, by the same operation of his grace, subdues the enmity of the carnal mind, and produces a genuine and supreme love to God. And who, that knows the reality and power of this divine passion, does not know that it is heaven begun? Christian reader, have there not been moments in your experience, when love to God has been so fervid in your soul, when the heaven-kindled flame has burnt so strongly, as to compel you to say, "If heaven, as I am taught, is to consist, so far as its subjective happiness is concerned, in the perfect love of God—I feel assured, from what I now experience, that I can never there be ashamed of my hope."

And then there is another way in which the work of God's Spirit assures us we shall never be ashamed of our hope—and that is, this work strengthens our faith in the divine origin and truth of the gospel. We have already shown how faith and hope operate on each other. Faith, of course, is the originator and sustainer of the hope. But then hope may strengthen faith, by acting back upon it.

Among the evidences of the truth of Christianity, the 'experimental' one is, to many people, the strongest, and to all really converted people, it carries great weight—"He who believes, has the witness in himself." Chalmers truly says, "That in the course of the believer's pilgrimage, never does the hope of experience supersede the hope of faith. So far from this, in the very proportion that experience grows in breadth, does faith grow in brightness. And it is this last, which still constitutes the sheet anchor of the soul, and forms the main element of its peace, and joy, and righteousness. It is well that in looking inwardly upon himself, he sees the growing lineaments of such a grace and such a character forming upon his person, as to manifest him to be ripening for eternity. But along with this process, he will look outwardly upon God in Christ, and there see, in constantly increasing manifestation, the truth, and mercy, and the unchangeableness of his reconciled Father—by far the firmest and stablest guarantee of his future destiny. The same agent, in fact, who brings about the one effect, brings about the other. He causes you not merely to see yourself to be an epistle of the Spirit of God, and to read therein the works of your personal interest in the promises—but he also causes you to see the promises, as standing in the outward record, invested with a light, and an honesty, and a freeness, which you did not see at the first revelation of them."

Thus the good works and the graces of personal religion, which are the fruits of the Spirit—not merely supply you with a foretaste of heaven, and assure you that it will exceed all your highest and happiest attainments now—but they cast back a reflex light on the faith from which they emanated, and equally convince you of the certainty as well as greatness of that celestial state. So that God's love to us, revealed by the light of the Spirit; and our love to God, produced by the same divine agent—assure us we shall never be ashamed of our anticipations of heaven.