By John Angell James, 1859


"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth." James 1:17-18

This is true of every temporal benefit. God is the fountain of all good, even of that which has reference to the body. All mercies must be traced to him as their true source. This is especially the case of all spiritual blessings. Their springs are all in heaven. The whole work of grace in the soul is God's doing. Regeneration contains enfolded in itself all the graces of the Spirit, just as all the parts of the ripe corn in the ear are all comprehended in the kernel that is sown in the earth. But, as in the latter case, the fostering influence of the soil and the elements are necessary to bring out the blade and the ear—so God's grace, in the conversion of the soul, which has given the living principle of all its various developments in sanctification, still carries on the process of the new creation.

Each manifestation of spiritual life requires a separate and specific operation of divine power. We must look to God for each—and expect each from him. Faith is one gift of his hand, hope is another, love is another—and so of all the exercises that go to make up the Christian character. We find that this accords exactly with our own experience. We do not in prayer merely ask for grace for the Christian life as a whole—but for grace in each part. We often feel our need of one virtue more strongly at one time, and in particular circumstances, than another—and our errand to the throne is for special help with regard to that one grace.

This applies to the grace we are now considering, I mean hope, of which God is the author. It is worthy of remark, that we know God more by what he is to us, than what he is in himself—more by his works than by his abstract nature—more, in short, by what he does, than by what he is. In himself he is not only an eternal truth—but an infinite mystery. Who, by searching, can find out God? How can the finite grasp the infinite? And is it not an approach of God, one step nearer to our conceptions of him, when he is revealed to us by his special operation in the production of individual Christian virtues? Thus he is called "the God of peace," "the God of all consolation," and "the God of hope." This cannot relate to what he is in his own nature—but what he is to us.

He is the God of hope in every aspect of the case. He commands it, approves it, and is indeed the object of it—but the true meaning is, that he is Author of it. The exercise of it in the soul of the believer is the work of his own Spirit, Not only is the principle of it implanted in the soul but every exercise of it is called out by his grace. It is a part of his own working in us "to will and to do." Christian hope, in its true meaning, is a great, a difficult, and therefore, a rare thing. There is really very little of it in the world. If it meant nothing more than loose, vague, cold, careless, and uninfluential expectation of some kind of happiness somewhere in a place called heaven, which most men, however worldly or wicked, indulge—there is plenty of this false hope—and which needs no act of divine power to produce it. This is easy enough and common enough.

But such a desire and expectation of the eternal world as is set forth in the Scriptures, which shall give a present kind of reality to it, which shall keep the soul diligent in all Christian duties, patient under all trials, and holy amid temptations; such a hope as subordinates earthly things to heavenly ones, and temporal matters to eternal ones; this is a state of mind too rarely found on earth—and wherever it is found, is always the work of divine grace. A man can no more rise to this exaltation without divine aid, than he can, by his own strength and effort, fly up to the clouds. The object of hope, when rightly understood, is so vast, so wonderful, so transcending all our conceptions, being immense, infinite, and eternal—we ourselves are so utterly unworthy of it, all our circumstances in this world of visibilities tend so entirely to draw away our attention from it, on account of its being altogether invisible and unattainable—as many things here demand and deserve our attention—so many appearances, if we were to judge only by sense, seem to render it probable that death is the end of us all, and so many believe it to be so—that really when we come to consider the matter deliberately and intelligently, we must at once be convinced that a settled practical hope of eternal life beyond the grave is not within the compass of man's unaided powers.

To lift the soul above the predominant influence of things seen and temporal, and bring it within the attraction of things unseen and eternal, is the work of Omnipotence alone! Hence it is said, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his abundant mercy, has begotten us, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to a living hope." And he who begins the work of hope must carry it on. God, in conversion, gives no stock of grace that renders us independent of him for sanctification, nor in giving us any particular religious principle, gives us a sufficiency of strength for all its future exercises. There is no clockwork mechanism in true religion, which, being wound up and set a going, may be left to itself to work on. Whatever of general laws there may be in either the natural or spiritual world, it is still true of both, that in him we not only live—but move, and have our being.

This is full of instruction, admonition, and consolation to the real Christian. It teaches him his dependence upon God for this, as well as for every other part of the Christian character. It shows him when to look, and when to go, and what to do—in order to maintain this delightful state of soul. It is well to become most intimately acquainted with all that is connected both with our safety and comfort in the divine life. Let the believer who is anxious, not only to maintain—but to strengthen his desires and expectations of eternal glory, never forget that in this, as in every other respect, he is just what divine grace makes him. Let him beware of thinking he is equal to this, or to anything else that is good of himself. It is a dangerous thing to suppose that anything spiritual is easy, and to lose sight for a moment of our need of divine help.

But this is not only instructive—but admonitory. If every exercise of hope be performed by a divine power working in us, how constant, earnest, and believing should be our prayers for divine grace to assist us. What a subject for prayer! Christian hope! How necessary for our sanctification and consolation. What a motive this to prayer. Let us make this a special subject of believing supplication. Have we done this? Are we doing it? Are we not too general in our petitions at the throne of grace? Do we analyze the one generic subject of true religion, and resolve it into its specific and various parts of faith, hope, loves, and make each by itself a separate object of desire and subject of prayer? Do we at one time dwell specially upon belief, and, with enlargement of soul, pray, "Lord, increase my faith?" Do we at another dwell upon hope, and pray that we may "abound in this grace also?" Do, we, at a third time, expatiate in our supplications upon love, and entreat that we may "increase more and more in this, in knowledge and in all judgment?"

If we observe the apostle's order and method of prayer for the churches, this was his way of procedure. Did he not pray, in reference to the graces we are now considering, that the believing Romans may abound in hope? Were we as much in earnest as we should be, we would, in regard to our soul's concerns, be far more particular than we are; we would descend more to detail, and attend more to the several parts of true religion; we would exercise our care for our souls as we do for our bodies. In reference to the latter, we do not think it enough to attend to the general state of our health, will keep up the tone of our constitution, though this is very important—but we descend to a minute inspection and care of every part of every limb, every organ, every function; we consider which is weak and needs strengthening, which is diseased and requires remedy. Let us then be much in prayer to God for an increase of hope.

And then, how consolatory is it to know that God is both able and willing to bestow it upon us. Why is he called "the God of hope," but to encourage our prayers? It is a sweet invitation, a blessed attraction, a kind of motive power, that he is thus set before us. Why, believer, he is "the God of hope." It is one of his very titles. He is "waiting to be gracious," He is glorified in bestowing this grace. He can, and will, if you ask him, fill you with hope even to the full assurance. It is your own fault if you are not "rejoicing in hope." There is no obstacle but your own unbelief. You are straitened in yourselves, not in him. He can "do above all you ask or think." Try him. You have never yet done this as you should. You have not, perhaps desired to abound in this grace; you are contented with the scanty measure you have; or you are in doubt and unbelief, and are ready to imagine you can never rise above your present low level. Cast away such unworthy ideas, and go to God strong in faith to be made more earnest in desire, more confident in expectation, and you shall be astonished at your success.