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THE Psalmist, therefore, by exhorting us unto this duty, doth put us in mind of four things. 1. That the best things are yet behind, and in reversion for the saints. 2. That those that have believed, will yet meet with difficulties before they come at them. 3. That the grace of Hope, well exercised, is the only way to overcome these difficulties. 4. They, therefore that have Hope, and do exercise it as they should, shall assuredly at last enjoy that hope that is laid up for them in heaven. 1. For the first of these, that the best things are yet behind, and in reversion for believers; this is manifest by the natural exercise of this grace. “For hope that is seen, is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” Romans 8:24,25.
Hope lives not by sight, as Faith as; but Hope trusteth Faith, as Faith trusts the Word, and so bears up the soul in a patient expectation at last to enjoy what God has promised. But I say, the very natural work of this grace proveth, that the believer’s best things are behind in reversion.
You may ask me, what those things are; and I may tell you, first, in general, they are heavenly things, they are eternal things, they are things that are where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Do you know them now? They are things that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor that have entered into the heart of men to conceive of. Do you know them now?
They are things that are referred for the next world — for the saints when they come into the next world. Talked of they may be now; the real being of them may be believed now; and by hope we may, and it will be our wisdom to wait for them now; but to know what they are in the nature of them, or in the enjoyment of them, otherwise than by Faith, he is deceived that saith it. They are things too big as yet to enter our hearts, and things too big, if they were there, to come out, or to be expressed by our mouths.
There we shall see and know, and be with, for ever, all our relations that have died in the faith: as wife, husband, child, father, mother, brother, or sister. But how gloriously they will look when we shall see them, and how gloriously we shall love them when we are with them, it is not for us in this world to know.
There are thoughts, and words, and ways for us, which we never dreamed of in this world. The law was but the shadow — the gospel, the image; but what will be the substance that comes next to us, or rather we shall go unto, who can understand?
If we never saw God, nor Christ as glorified, nor the Spirit of the Lord, nor the bottom of the Bible, nor yet so much as one of the days of eternity, (and yet all these things we shall see and have then,) how can it be that the things laid up for us, that should be the object of hope should by us be understood in this world?
Yet there are intimations given us of the goodness and greatness of them. 1. Of their goodness. And that appears, in that the Holy Ghost scorns that things that are here, should once be compared with them. Hence all things here are called vanities, nothings, less than nothings. Now, if the things, all the things that are here, are so contemptuously considered, when compared with the things that are to be hereafter, and yet these things are so great in the carnal man’s esteem, as that he is willing to venture life, and soul, and all, to have them, what are the things that God has prepared for them that wait, that is, that hope for him?
Their goodness also appears in this, that whoever has had that understanding of them as is revealed in the word, whether king or beggar, wise man Or fool, he has willingly cast this world behind him, in contempt and scorn, for the hope of that.
The goodness of them has even testimony in the very consciences of them that hate them. Take the vilest man in the country, the man who is so wedded to his lusts, that he will rather run the hazard of a thousand hells than leave them: and ask this man his judgment of the things of the next world, and he will shake his head, and say, ‘they are good; they are best of all.’
But the saints have the best apprehension of their goodness for the Lord doth sometimes drop some of the juice of them out of his word, into their hungry souls. 2. But as they are good, so they are great. “O how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee: which thou hast wrought for them that trust (that hope) in thee before the sons of men.”
Their greatness appears in that they go beyond the word; yea, beyond the word of the Holy Ghost. It doth not yet appear to us by the word of God, to the full, the greatness of what is prepared for God’s people. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God; and it doth not yet appear what we shall be.”
It doth not appear in the word; there is a greatness in the things that we are to hope for, that could never be expressed: they are beyond word, beyond thought, beyond conceiving of. Paul, when he was come down again from out of paradise, into which he was caught up, could not speak a word about the words he heard, and the things that there he saw: they were things and words which he saw and heard which it is not possible for a man to utter.
Their greatness is intimated by the word eternal. He that knows the bottom of that word, shall know what things they are. The things that are not seen are eternal,; they are incorruptible, undefiled and that fade not away, that are reserved in heaven for us.
Their greatness is showed, in that one right thought of them will fill the heart so full, that both it and the eyes will run over together; yea, so full, that the creature shall not be able to stand up under the weight of glory, that by it is laid upon the soul. Alas! all the things in this world will not fill one heart. And yet one thought that is right, of the things that God has prepared, and laid up in heaven for us, will fill it, yea, and over fill it too!
The greatness of the things of the next world appears, in that when one of the least of them is showed to us, we are not able, without support from thence, to abide the sight thereof. I count that the angels are of those things that are least in that world, and yet the sight of one of them, when the sight of them was in use, what work would it make in the hearts and minds of mortal men, the scripture plainly enough declares.
Their greatness is intimated, in that we must be as it were new made again, before we can be capable of enjoying them, as we must enjoy them, with comfort. And herein will be a great part of our happiness, that we shall not only see them, but be made like unto them, like unto their King; for “when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” We shall see him, and therefore must be like him; for else the sight of him would overcome us and destroy us; but because we are to see him with comfort and everlasting joy, therefore we must be like him in body and mind. 2. But to come to the second thing, namely, that those that believe there are such things as these, will meet with difficulties before they come at them. This is so grand a truth, that nothing can be said against it. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous;” and “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
The causes from which these afflictions arise are known to be various.
Some are from ourselves. For sin having got such hold in our flesh, makes that opposition against our soul and the welfare thereof, that puts us continually to trouble. Fleshly lusts work against the soul, and so do worldly lusts too; yea, they quench our graces, and make them that would live, ready to die; yea, by reason of these, such darkness, such guilt, such fear, such mistrust, ariseth in us, that it is common for us, if we live any while, to make a thousand conclusions twice told, that we shall never arrive with comfort at the gates of the kingdom of heaven. The natural tendency of every struggle of the least lust against grace, is, if we judge according to carnal reason, to make us question the truth of a work of grace in us, and our right to the world to come. This it was that made Paul cry out, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?” only he had more wisdom than to follow to the natural conclusions that carnal reason was apt to make thereupon, and so hoisted up his soul to hope.
Sin, by its working in us, doth not only bring darkness, guilt, fear, mistrust, and the like; but it doth ofttimes as it were hamstring us, and disable us from going to God by faith and prayer for pardon. It makes the heart hard, senseless, careless, lifeless, spiritless as to feeling, in all Christian duty; and this is a grievous thing to a gracious soul. The other things will create a doubt, and drive it up to the head into the soul; but these will go on the other side and clench it. Now all these things make hoping difficult.
For by these things the judgment is not only clouded, and the understanding greatly darkened, but all the powers of the soul made to fight against itself; conceiving, imagining, apprehending, and concluding things, that have a direct tendency to extirpate and extinguish, if possible, the graces of God that are planted in the soul; yea, to the making of it cry out, “I am cut off from before thine eyes.”
Add to these, the hidings of the face of God from the soul, a thing to it more bitter than death; yet nothing more common among them that hope in the Lord. “He hideth himself from the house of Jacob.” Nor is this done only in fatherly displeasure; but by this means some graces are kept alive.
Faith is kept alive by the word, patience by hope, and hope by faith; but ofttimes a spirit of prayer, by the rod, chastisement, and the hiding of God’s face. But I say, this hiding of his sweet face is bitter to the soul, and ofttimes puts-both faith and hope to a sad and most fearful plunge. For at such a day, it is with the soul as with the ship at sea, that is benighted and without light. Or it is like a man bewildered upon the land; only the text saith, for the help and succor of such, “Who is among you that feareth the Lord, and that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.” Yet as it is with children, so it is with saints; we are a great deal more subject to fears in the night than in the day. That therefore that tendeth to the help of some graces, if there be not great care taken, will prove a hindrance to others.
Nor is the ruler of the darkness of this world wanting to apply himself and his engines, so as, if possible, to make use of all these things for the overthrowing of faith, and for the removing of our hope from the Lord, as a tree is removed from rooting in the ground. Behold! he can expound all things, so as that they shall fall directly in the way of our believing. As thus: ‘we have sin, therefore we have no grace; sin struggleth in us, therefore we fear not God; something in us sideth with sin, therefore we are wholly unregenerate; sin is in our best performances, therefore wherefore should I hope?’ Thus, I say, he can afflict us in our pilgrimage, and make hope difficult to us. Besides, the hiding of God’s face, he can make not only a cause of sorrow, (for that indeed it should be,) but a ground of despair; and as desperately concluding he will never come again.
How many good souls has he driven to these conclusions, who afterwards have been made to unsay all again?
And though spiritual desertions, darkness of soul, and guilt of sin, are the burdens most intolerable, yet they are not all; for there is to be added to all these, that common evil of persecution; another device invented to make void our hope. In this, I say, we are sure to be concerned; that is, if we be godly: for though the apostle doth not say, all that will live in Christ; that is, in the common profession of him, shall suffer persecution; yet he saith, All that live godly in him, shall. Now, this, in itself, is a terror to flesh and blood, and hath a direct tendency in it to make hope difficult. Hence, men of a persecuting spirit, because of their greatness, and of their teeth, the laws, — are said to be a terror, and to carry amazement in their doings; and God’s people are apt to be afraid of them, (though they shall die,) and to forget God their Maker; and this makes hoping hard work.
For besides that grimness that appears in the face of persecutors, Satan can tell how to lessen, and make to dwindle in our apprehensions, those truths unto which our hearts have joined themselves afore, and to which Christ our Lord has commanded us to stand. So that they shall now appear but little, small, inconsiderable things; things not worth engaging for; things not worth running those hazards for, that in the hour of trial may lie staring us in the face.
At such times also, stars do use to fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven to be shaken: and so every thing tends to weaken them, or at least to lay stumbling blocks in their way, who are commanded to hope in the Lord.
Again, as Satan can make use of his subtilty, thus to afflict and weaken the hands and hearts of those that hope in God; so he can add to these the dismalness of a suffering state. He can make the loss of goods in our imagination, ten times bigger than it is in itself. He can make an informer a frightful creature — a jail look like hell itself. He can make banishment and death utterly intolerable, and things that must be shunned with the hazard of our salvation. Thus he can greaten and lessen, lessen and greaten, for the troubling of our hearts, for the hindering of our hope Add to all these, That the things that we suffer for, were never seen by us, but are quite beyond our sight, — things that indeed are said to be great and good; but we have only the word and the Bible for it. And be sure if he that laboreth night and day to devour us can help it, our faith shall be molested and perplexed at such a time, that it may, if possible, be hard to do the commandment that here the text enjoins us to the practice of; that is, to hope in the Lord. And this brings me to the third particular. 3. That the grace of hope, well exercised, is the only way to overcome those difficulties. Abraham had never laughed for joy, had he not hoped when the angel brought him tidings of a son, yea, had he not hoped against all things that could have been said to discourage. Hence it is said, that “against hope he believed, in hope that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.”
There is hope against hope; hope grounded on Faith, against hope grounded on Reason. Hope grounded on reason, would have made Abraham expect that the promise should surely have been ineffectual, because of the deadness of Abraham’s body, and of the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. But he hoped against the difficulty, by hope that sprang from faith; which confided in the promise and power of God, and so overcame the difficulty, and indeed obtained the promise. Hope, therefore, well exercised, is the only way to overcome. Hence Peter bids those that are in a suffering condition, “Be sober, and hope to the end,” for the grace that is to be brought unto them at the revelation of Jesus Christ. And therefore, it is, as you heard before, that we are said to be saved by hope.
Hope is excellent, 1. To help us against those discouragement’s that arise up out of our hearts. 2. It is excellent to embolden a man in the cause of God. 3. It is excellent at helping one over the difficulties that men, by frights and terrors, may lay in our way.
It is excellent (I say) to help us against those discouragement’s that arise out of our own hearts. This is clear in the instance last mentioned about Abraham, who had nothing but discouragement’s arising from himself. But he had hope, and well he exercised it; wherefore, after a little patient enduring, he overcame the difficulty, and obtained the promise.
The reason is, that it is the nature of true Hope to turn away its ear, from opposing difficulties, to the word and mouth of Faith. And perceiving that Faith has got hold of the promise, Hope, notwithstanding difficulties that do or may attempt to intercept, will expect, and so wait for the accomplishment thereof.
Hope is excellent at emboldending a man in the cause of God. Hence the apostle saith, “Hope maketh not ashamed;” for not to be ashamed there, is to be emboldened. So again, when Paul speaks of his troubles he met with for the profession of the gospel, he saith, that they should turn to his salvation: “According,” saith he, “to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed; but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death.” See here, a man at the foot of the ladder, now ready in will and in mind, to die for his profession. But how will he carry it now? Why, with all brave and innocent boldness. But how will he do that? Oh! by the hope of the gospel that is in him; for by that he is fully persuaded, that the cause he suffereth for will bear him up in the day of God, and that he shall then be well rewarded for it.
Hope is also excellent at helping one over those difficulties that men, by frights and terrors, may lay in our way. Hence when David was almost killed with the reproach and oppression of his enemies, and his soul full sorely bowed down to the ground therewith; that he might revive and get up again, he calls to his soul to put in exercise the grace of hope, saying, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” So again saith he, in the next Psalm after, as afore he had complained of the oppression of the enemy, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”
Hope therefore is a soul-encouraging grace, a soul-emboldening grace, and a soul-preserving grace. Hence it is called our helmet or head-piece: “the helmet of salvation.” This is one piece of the armor with which the Son of God was clothed, when he came into the world; and it is that against which nothing can prevail. For as long as I can hope for salvation, what can hurt me? This word, spoken in the blessed exercise of grace, “I hope for salvation,” drives down all before it. The truth of God is that man’s shield and buckler that hath made the Lord his hope.
God, to show how well he takes hoping in him at our hands, has called himself “The God of hope.” That is, not only the author of hope, but the God that takes pleasure in them that exercise it. “The Lord takes pleasure in them that fear him, in them that hope in his mercy.”
He has promised us the life we hope for, to encourage us still to hope and to endure all things to enjoy it. “That he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.” Question. But you may say, ‘What is it to exercise this grace aright?’ Answer . 1. You must look well to your faith, that that may prosper; for as your faith is, such your hope will be. Hope is never ill when Faith is well; nor strong if Faith be weak. Wherefore Paul prays that the Romans might be filled with all joy and peace in believing, that they might abound in hope. When a man by faith believes to joy and peace, then hope grows strong, and with an assurance looketh for a share in the world to come. Wherefore, look to your faith, and pray heartily that the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace in believing. 2. Learn of Abraham not to faint, stumble, or doubt, at the sight of your own weakness. For if you do, hope will stay below, and creak in the wheels as it goes, because it will want the oil of faith. But say to thy soul, when thou beginnest to faint and sink at the sight of these, as David did to his, in the places made mention of before. 3. Be much in calling to mind what God has done for thee in former times. Keep thy experience as a choice thing. “Remember all the ways the Lord hath led thee in the wilderness these forty years.” “O my God,’ said David, “my soul is cast down within me; therefore, will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.” 4. Be much in looking at the end of things, or rather to the end of this, and to the beginning of the next world. What we enjoy of God in this world, may be an earnest of hope, or a token that the thing hoped for is to be ours at last; but the object of hope is in general the next world.
We must, therefore, put a difference betwixt the mother of hope faith; the means of hope, the word; the earnest of hope, Christ in us; and the proper object of hope, to wit, the world to come, and the goodness thereof.
If Christians have much here, their hope, as I may so say, lies idle, and as a grace out of its exercise. For as faith cannot feed upon patience, but upon Christ; and as the grace of hungering and thirsting cannot live upon selffullness, but upon the riches of the promise; so hope cannot make what is enjoyed its object; “for what a man seeth why doth he yet hope for?” But the proper object of hope is that we see not.
Let faith, then, be exercised upon Christ crucified for my justification, and hope upon the next world for my glorification; and let love show the truth of faith in Christ, by acts of kindness to Christ and his people; and patience, the truth of hope, by a quiet bearing and enduring that which may now be laid upon me for my sincere profession’s sake, until the hope that is laid up for us in heaven shall come to us, or we be gathered to that; and then hope is in some measure in good order, and exercised well. But, 4. We now come to the last thing propounded to be spoken to, which is, they, that have hope, and exercise it well, shall assuredly at last enjoy that hope that is laid up for them in heaven; that is, they that do regularly exercise the grace of hope, shall at last enjoy the object of it, or the thing hoped for. This must of necessity be concluded, else we overthrow the whole truth of God at once, and the expectation of the best of men; yea, if this be not concluded, what follows but that atheism, unbelief and irreligion, are the rightest? and profane and debauched persons are in the rightest way?
But to proceed; this must be, as is evident. For the things hoped for are put under the very name of the grace that lives in the expectation of them.
They are called hope; “looking for the blessed hope;” for “the hope that is laid up for them in heaven.” God has set that character upon them, to signify that they belong to hope, and shall be the reward of hope. God doth in this as your great traders do with the goods that their chapmen have either bought or spoke for; to wit, he sets their name or mark upon them, and then saith, ‘this belongs to this grace,’ and ‘this belongs to that;’ but the kingdom of heaven belongs to Hope, for his name is set upon it. This, therefore, is one thing, to prove that the thing hoped for shall be thine; God has marked it for thee: nor can it be given to those that do not hope.
That is to the same purpose that you read of, ( 2 Thessalonians 1) “That you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God for which ye also suffer.” Suffering flows from hope. He that hopes not for a house in heaven, will not for it choose to suffer the loss of the pleasures and friendships of this world. But they that suffer for it, (and that all do, one way or other, in whom is placed this grace of hope,) them God counteth worthy of it; and, therefore, hath marked it with their mark, ‘Hope;’ for that it belongs to Hope, and shall be given to those that hope. That is the first.
They that do, as afore is said, exercise this grace of hope, shall assuredly enjoy the hope that is laid up for them in heaven, as is evident also from this; because as God has marked and set it apart for them, so what he has done to, and with, our Lord and head, since his death, he hath done to this very end; that is, to beget and maintain our hope in him, as touching this thing, He has “begotten us again to a lively hope, by the resurrection of Christ from the dead.” The meaning is, Christ is our undertaker, and suffered death for us, that we might enjoy happiness and glory; and God, to show how willing he was that we should have this glory, raised up Christ again, and delivered him from the sorrows of death. Wherefore, considering this, Paul said he rejoiced; in hope of the glory of God,” of that glory, that sin, had he not had Jesus for his undertaker, would have caused that he should certainly have come short of.
But, again, God raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory too, and that to this very end, “that your faith and hope might be in God.” I say, he did it to this very end, that he might beget in you this good opinion of him, as to hope in him, that he would give you that good thing hoped for, namely, eternal life. He gave him glory, and put it into his hand (for you) who is your head and Savior; that you might see how willing God is to give you the hope you look for: “that your faith and hope might be in God.”
That we that have hope and rightly exercise it, might assuredly enjoy that hope, “that hope that is laid up for us in heaven.” God has promised it, and that to our Savior for us. Had he promised to us, we might yet have feared; for with our faults we give a cause of continual provocation to him. But since he hath promised it to Christ., it must assuredly come to us by him; because Christ, to whom it is promised, never gave occasion of provocation to him to take it back. And that it was promised to Christ, to me is evident, because it was promised before the world began. “In hope of eternal life,” saith Paul, “which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began:” and this is, that we might hope. Men do use to hope to enjoy that money or estate that by those that are faithful is promised to them, and put into the hands of trusty persons for them. Why, this is the case. God, that cannot lie, has promised it to the hopers, and has put it into the hand of the trusty Jesus for us; therefore, let us hope, that in his time we shall both see and enjoy the same we hope for.
Yea, that all ground of doubt and scruple as to this might be removed out of the way, when Christ, who as to what was last said, is our Hope, shall come, he shall bring that grace and mercy with him, that shall even from before his judgment-seat, remove all those things that might have any tendency in them to deprive us of our hope, or of the thing hoped for by us. Hence, Peter bids us, “Be sober and hope to the end, for the grace that shall be brought unto us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Also as to this, Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, joins with him, saying, “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” Here then you see that there are grace and mercy still for us in reversion; grace and mercy to be brought unto us at the revelation, or second coming of Jesus Christ. How then can we be hindered of our hope?
For transporting mercy will then be busy for them, that, indeed, have here the hope of eternal life. “And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.”
None knows the mystery of God’s will in all things revealed in his word; therefore, many texts are looked over, or laid by, as those whose key doth go too hard. Nor will I boast of any singular knowledge in any particular thing. Yet, me thinks, since grace and mercy were not only brought by Christ when he came into the world, but shall be brought again with him when he comes in his Father’s glory, it signifies, that as the first brought the beginning of eternal life to us while we were enemies, this second will bring the full enjoyment of it to us while we are saints, attended with many imperfections: and that as by the first grace, all unworthiness was pardoned and passed by; so by this second grace, the grace that is to be brought unto us at the revelation of Jesus Christ, all shortness in duties, and failings in performances, shall be spared also; and we made possessors, by virtue of this grace and mercy, of the blessings hoped for, namely, the blessings of eternal life.