But an elect vessel of mercy can never be wrecked on such shoals as these. To his own apprehensions, his hope may perish from the Lord [La 3:18], and “be removed like a tree” [Job 19:10]. But it is not really lost out of his heart. He still holds faith, and has not put away a good conscience. There is a “Who can tell?” struggling for life. As Jacob said of Esau, “Peradventure he will accept me”; and as the servants of Benhadad reasoned with their master, “We have heard that the kings of Israel are merciful kings; peradventure he will save thy life”, so the new-born soul under spiritual convictions hopes against hope. This anchor holds him firm. And though he often fears his cable will snap, yet the anchor, being within the veil, linked on to the throne of God by the golden chain of eternal love, can neither break nor drive.
But hope in a storm and hope in a calm, hope in the bud and hope in the flower, though they differ not in nature, differ greatly in degree. Night and day do not alter the reality of things, but they widely alter their appearance. Hope shut up in a dungeon and looking through the prison bars, and hope walking abroad in the sunshine differ much in feeling, though they do not differ in kind. But we must not cut off hope’s head, nor bury him alive in his cell, because he is shut up, and cannot come forth. Neither must we say that hope is only born on the same day that he comes out in his holiday attire.
But some would treat hope as badly as they treat faith, and allow him neither place nor name, birthright nor inheritance in the regenerated soul until deliverance comes, though it belongs especially to the poor [Job 5:16], dwelleth in the heart that is sick [Pr 13:12], and is the portion of those whose mouth is in the dust [La 3:29]. Such wise master-builders would allow the soldier no helmet [1Th 5:8], the sailor no anchor [Heb 6:19], and the prisoner no stronghold [Zec 9:12]. But if he is joined to the living he has hope; and the hope of a living dog is better any day than the vain confidence of a dead lion [Ecc 9:4].
But under the genial ray of God’s smiling countenance the bud opens, and hope bursts forth. And as it expands it looks upward to heaven, and rises towards its Author and Finisher, its Source and its End. All true grace looks upward, whilst counterfeits look downward. Thus true hope centres in God; false hope centres in self. “Hope thou in God”, said David to his soul Ps 42:11. “And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in Thee” Ps 39:7. “That they might set their hope in God, and not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation” Ps 78:7-8. But false hope is a hope in self, that is to say, natural self. It is therefore compared to a rush, which grows out of the mire, and withereth before any other herb; and to the web which the spider spins out of its own bowels Job 8:11-14. I never yet found anything in self-I mean natural self-which raised up a living hope. I have known plenty of things to cause despair, such as pride, lust, covetousness, unbelief, infidelity, enmity, rebellion, hardness and carelessness. I have found in self mountains of sin to press out the life of hope, torrents of evil to sweep away the foundations of hope, and clouds of darkness to hide the very existence of hope. But I have never yet found in vile self, deceitful self, filthy self, black self, and hateful self, any one thing to beget or keep alive a spiritual hope. If I could, I should fall under that terrible sentence, whose sweeping edge cuts off thousands: “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord” Jer 17:5.
But what a mighty revolution takes place in the soul when the bud of hope bursts forth into flower! It was well nigh covered up with despair, as the bud is hidden by the green leaves that close around it; but it springs up out of despair, and the green leaves part asunder. Darkness, guilt, terror, heaviness, gloom, melancholy, forebodings of death and judgment brooded over the soul, like the unclean birds over Abraham’s sacrifice. But hope, as Abraham of old, has driven them away. And now hope mounts upward to God. Hope has nothing to do with earth, but leaves flesh and self and the world, the servants and the asses, at the foot of the mount Ge 22:5, that it may have communion with Jehovah Jireh. Thus hope feeds upon the unseen things which faith realises.
Both faith and hope are engaged on the same things, but not in the same way. Faith credits, hope anticipates; faith realises, hope enjoys; faith is the hand which takes the fruit, hope is the mouth which feeds upon it. Thus a certain promise is made to Abraham that he shall have a son by Sarah. This was a revelation of divine possibility in human impossibility Mr 10:27, of supernatural power in creature helplessness Ro 4:19-22, to credit which revelation is the essence of spiritual faith. By faith Abraham realised this promise; by hope he enjoyed it. It was an unseen thing, an event to come to pass at twenty-five years distance, but faith made it present, and as such hope fed upon it. When Abraham held in his arms the newborn Isaac, the pleasure was only a fuller enjoyment of what he had before tasted. He now enjoyed in reality, in possession, what he had previously tasted in prospect, in anticipation.
Thus true hope feeds upon present things, but upon present things only as pledges and foretastes of things future. It feeds upon Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever, and looks forward to no other salvation than that of which it now enjoys the foretaste. All other hope than this is a lie. To hope in the forgiveness of sin-of which there is no foretaste; in God-of whom there has been no manifestation; in salvation-of which there has been no pledge; in mercy-of which there has been no token; in everlasting happiness-of which there has been no inward enjoyment; is delusion and presumption. Of this building, ignorance digs the foundation, self-deceit rears the wall, and hypocrisy plasters on the untempered mortar. It is a refuge of lies, which the hail shall sweep away and the waters overflow.