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There is a general object of hope, and there is a particular object; there is a common object, and there is a special one. Of the general and common object, to wit, of heaven and happiness, I have said something already; wherefore it remains that now we come and treat of this particular and special object of our hope: “Let Israel hope in the Lord.” The Lord, therefore, is to be the particular and special object of our hope: “Let Israel hope in the Lord.”
Now in that there is not only a duty here exhorted to, but a direction for the better management of that duty, to the particular and special object upon which this duty should be exercised, it suggesteth, how apt good men are, especially in times of trouble, (the case of Israel now,) to fix their hopes in other things than on the Lord. We have seen a great deal of this in our days. Our days, indeed, have been days of trouble, especially since the discovery of the Popish plot; for then we began to fear cutting of throats, of being burned in our beds, and of seeing our children dashed in pieces before our faces. (*The Popish Plot, so called, to which Bunyan here refers, was in 1678. Nothing so horrible, as was sworn to by Titus Oates and others, was probably planned by the Papists at that time; yet the murder of the magistrate who took his deposition, and the recollection of the Gunpowder Plot, gave it credibility; and produced for months the greatest consternation and alarm in England. J. M. B.) But looking about us, we found we had a gracious king, brave parliaments, a stout city, good lord mayor, honest sheriffs, substantial laws against them; and these we made the object of our hope, quite forgetting the direction in this exhortation, “ Let Israel hope in the Lord.”
For indeed the Lord ought to be our hope in temporals, as well as in spirituals and eternals. Wherefore Israel of old were checked under a supposition of placing their hope for temporals in man: “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man: It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.” And again, “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.” This implieth that there is in us an incidency to forget God, our Hope, and to put confidence in something else. And to be sure we shall find it the more difficult to make the Lord our hope only, when things that are here, though deceitfully, proffer us their help.
But my design is not to treat of the object of hope but with reference to the next world. And as to that, we must take heed that we set our hope in God, in God in the first place, and in nothing below or besides himself. To this end it is that he has given us his word and appointed a law to Israel.
First. Because of his own grace He is become the special Object of Hope; designing Himself in the most special sense to be the Portion of his people. “The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.”
Wherefore this we must look well to, and take heed that we miss not of this object. This is the special object, the ultimate object, the object that we cannot be without, and that short of which we cannot be happy: as, God willing, shall be shown more anon. God is not only happiness in himself, but the life of the soul, and him that puts goodness into everything in the next world, in which goodness shall be found. And this our Lord Jesus Christ, himself affirmeth, when he saith, “I am the way,” that is, the way to life and happiness. And yet he saith, “I am the way to the Father;” for it is he that is the fountain and ocean of happiness and bliss.
So then, that we might in the next world be heirs of the highest good, God has made us heirs of his own good self; “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; “heirs of God. through Christ.” This God,THIS ETERNAL GOD, therefore, is of necessity to be the Object of our hope, because he is of grace become our Hope. The church in heaven, called the body and temple of God, is to be an habitation for himself, when it is finished, to dwell in for ever and ever. This, then, we hope for, namely, to be possessed at that day with eternal life, eternal glory. Now, this eternal life and eternal glory is, through God, the hope of his people, And for this end, and to this bliss, are we called and regenerate in this world; “that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life.”
Nor can it be that heaven and happiness should ever be the portion of them that make not God their hope; any more than such a lady should hope to enjoy the estate of such a lord, who first makes not the lord himself her husband. ‘Heaven,’ ‘heaven,’ is the talk of the ignorant, while the God of heaven they cannot abide. But shall such ever come to glory?
Secondly . God must be the special Object of our hope, and him in special that must be enjoyed by us in the next world, or nothing can make us happy. We will suppose now, for the illustrating of this matter, that which is not to be supposed: as, 1. Suppose a man, when he dieth, should go to heaven, that golden place, what good would this do him, if he were not possessed of the God of it? It would be, as to sweetness, but a thing unsavory; as to durableness, but a thing uncertain; as to society, as a thing forlorn; and as to life, but a place of death.
All this is made appear by the angels that fell; for when fallen what was heaven to them? Suppose they staid but one quarter of an hour there after the fall, before they were cast out, what sweetness found they there, but guilt? What stay, but a continual fall of heart and mind? What society, but to be abandoned of all? And what life, but death in its perfection? Yea, if it be true, as some think, that for the promoting of grace, they are admitted yet to enter that place to accuse the saints on earth, yet what do they find there but what is grievous to them? — It is the presence of God that makes heaven heaven in all its beauteousness. Hence David, when he speaks of heaven, says, “Whom have I in heaven but thee?” As if he should say, ‘What would heaven yield to me for delights, if I were there without God?’
It is the presence of God that will make heaven sweet to those who are his. — And as it is that that makes the place, so it is interest in him that makes the company, and the deeds that are done there, pleasant to the soul. What solace can he that is without God, though he were in heaven, have with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the prophets and angels? How could he join their thanks, and praises, and blessings of him for ever and ever, in whose favor, mercy, and grace, they are not concerned? 2. Suppose a man, when he dieth, should be made to live for ever, but without the enjoyment of God, what good would his life do him? Why, it would be full of horror, darkness, desolation, sorrow, and all things that would tend to make it bitter to the soul. Witness them that live in hell, if it be proper to say they live, in hell. It is no more possible for a man to live happily, were he possessed of all that heaven and life could afford him, suppose him to be without interest in God, than it is for a man that hath all the enjoyments of this world, if the sun were taken from him out of the firmament. As all things, whether it be heaven, angels, heavenly pleasures and delights, have had their being of him; so their being is continued by him, and made sweet of him.
Now, for the well managing of our hope, with reference to this special object of it, there are these things to be considered; — and now I speak to all. We must know him right; we must come to him right.
First . We must know him right. It is essential to happiness, and so to the making of the God of heaven our hope, to know him rightly. It is not every fancy, or imagination of God thou mayst have, that will prove that therefore thou knowest God aright. In him there is no variableness, nor shadow of turning: he only IS WHAT HE IS, what imagination soever we have of him. We may set up idols and images of him, as much in our minds as some do in their houses and in their temples, and be as great, though not so gross idolators as they. Now, if thou wouldst know him, thou must diligently feel for him in his works, in his word, and in his ways, if perhaps thou mayst find the knowledge of him.
Second . Beware, when thou hast found him, that thou go to him by his Son, whom he has sanctified and sent into the world, to be the way for sinners to go to God. And see that thou keepest in this path always; for out of him he is found intolerable, and a consuming fire.
Busy thyself with all thy might to make an interest in his Son, (and he will willingly be thy Savior;) for he must become thine before his Father can become the object of thy hope. He that hath the Son hath the Father;” but contrariwise, he that hath not him, hath neither.
Stay not in some transient comforts, but abide restless till thou seest a union betwixt thee and this blessed one; to wit, that he is a root, and thou a branch; that he is head, and thou a member. And then shalt thou know that the case is so between thee and him, when grace and his Spirit have made thee to lay the whole stress of thy justification upon him, and have subdued thy heart and mind to be one spirit with him.
This done, hope thou in God, for he is become thy hope, that is, the object of it. And for thy encouragement so to do, 1. Consider that he is able to bear up thy heart, and has said he will do it, as to this very thing, to all those that thus hope in him. “Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.”
It is manifest, as was said before, that many difficulties lie in the way of hoping; but God will make those difficulties easy, by strengthening the heart of him that hopeth, to hope. He has a way to do that, which no creature can hinder, by the blessed word of his Holy Spirit. He can show us he loves us, that he may encourage our hope. 2. As he can work in us for our encouragement, so he can and will, as was said before, himself in his time answer our hope, by becoming our hope himself. The Lord shall be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel. 3. His faithfulness also is a great encouragement to his, to hope for the accomplishment of all that he hath promised unto his people. Hath he said it, and will he not make it good? When he promised to bring Israel into the land of Canaan, he accomplished it to a tittle. “There failed not aught of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel; all came to pass.” Also what he with his mouth had promised to David, with his hand he fulfilled to Solomon in the view of all the thousands of Israel.
I will omit making mention again of the encouragement’s spoken of before, and shall now come to the third thing specified in this part of the text, namely, to show more distinctly who, and what particular persons they are, who are concerned in this exhortation to hope.
They are put, as you see, under this general term, “Israel.” “Let Israel hope in the Lord:” and, “He shall save Israel from all his troubles.” “Israel” is to be taken three ways, in the Scriptures. 1. For such as are Israel after the flesh. 2. For such as are so neither after the flesh nor the Spirit; but in their own fancies and carnal imaginations only. 3. For such as are Israel after God, or after the Spirit. 1. Israel is to be taken for those that are such after the flesh; that is, for those that sprang from the loins of Jacob, and are called, “Israel after the flesh — the children of the flesh.” Now, these, as such, are not the persons interested in this exhortation; for by the flesh comes no true spiritual and eternal grace. Men are not within the bounds of the promise of eternal life, as they are the children of the flesh, either in the more gross or more refined sense. Jacob was as spiritual a father as any, I suppose, that now professeth the gospel; but this spiritualness could not convey down to his children that were such only after the flesh, that spirit and grace that causeth sound conversion, and salvation by Jesus Christ. Hence, Paul counts it a carnal thing to glory in this; and tells us plainly, if he had heretofore known Christ thus, that is, to have been his brother or kinsman, according to the flesh, or after that, he would henceforth know him, that is so, no more. For though the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet not that multitude, but the remnant, that the Lord hath chosen and shall call, shall be saved.
This, therefore, is as an arrow against the face of that false doctrine that the Jews leaned upon, that is, that they were in the state of grace, and everlasting favor of God, because the children and offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But, 2. Israel may be taken for such as are neither so after the flesh, nor the Spirit, but in their own fancy and imagination only. And such I take to be all those that you read of in Revelation 2:9, which said they were Jews, and were not, but did lie. These I take to be those carnal gospellers, that from among the Gentiles pretended themselves to be Jews inwardly, whose circumcision is that of the heart in the Spirit; when they were such only in their own fancies and conceits, and made their profession out as a lie.
Abundance of these there are at this day in the world, men who know neither the Father, nor the Son, nor any thing of the way of the Spirit, in the work of regeneration, and yet presume to say, they are Jews; that is, truly and spiritually the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For now, “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew which is one inwardly: and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit — whose praise is not of men, but of God.”
And although it may please some now to say, as they of old said to them of the captivity, “We seek your God as ye do;” yet at last it will be found, that (as they) such “have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem.”
And I would from hence caution all to take heed of presuming to count themselves Jews, unless they have a substantial ground so to do; for to do this without a good bottom, makes all our profession a lie; and not only so, but it hindereth us of a sight of a want of interest in Jesus Christ, without which we cannot be saved. Yea, such a one is the great self-deceiver, and so the worst deceiver of all: for he that deceives his own self, his own heart, is a deceiver in the worst sense; nor can any disappointment be like unto that, which casts away soul and body at once. O slender thread! that a man should think, that because he fancieth himself an Israelite indeed, that therefore he shall go for such a one in the day of judgment, or that he shall be able to cheat God with a pitiful say-so! 3. But the Israel under consideration in the text, is Israel after God, or after the Spirit. Hence they are called “the Israel of God,” because they are made so of him, not by generation, nor by fancy, but by divine power.
And thus was the first of this name made so. “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel.” This then is the man concerned in the text, “Let Israel hope in the Lord;” namely, Israel that is so of God’s making, and of God’s allowance. For men are not debarred from calling themselves after this most godly name, provided they are so indeed. All that is dangerous is, when men shall think this privilege comes by carnal generation, or that their fancying themselves to be such, will bear them out in the day of judgment. Otherwise, if men become the true servants of God by Christ, they have, as I said, an allowance so to subscribe themselves. “One shall say, I am the Lord’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel.”
But then, for the further describing of such; they must be men of circumcised and tender hearts, they must be such as worship God in the Spirit, and that rejoice in Christ Jesus, and that have no confidence in the flesh. For these are the Nathaniel’s, the “Israelites indeed in whom there is no guile;” and these are they that are intended in the exhortation, when he saith, “Let Israel hope in the Lord.” 1. For these are formed for that very end, that they might hope in the Lord. Yea, the word and testament is given to them for this purpose. 2. These are prisoners of hope all the time they are in the state of nature, even as the whole creation is subjected under hope, all the time of its bondage, by the sin and villany of man; and unto them it shall be said, in dispensation of the fullness of time, “Turn you to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope;” as certainly as that which is called “the creature itself,” shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Only here, as I said before, let all men have a care in this thing. This is the pinnacle, the point: he that is right here, is right in all that is necessary to salvation: but he that misses here, can by no means be right any where to his soul’s advantage in the other world.
If I should a little improve the text, where this title is first given to man, and show the posture he was in, when it was said to him, “Thy name shall be called Israel;” and should also debate upon the cause or ground of that expression, “An Israelite indeed,” thou mightiest not repent it who shall read it; and therefore a few words to each. 1. When Jacob received the name of Israel, he was found wrestling with the angel; yea, and so resolved a wrestler was he, that he purposed now he had begun, not to give out without a blessing. “I will not let thee go,” said he, “except thou bless me.” Discouragement’s he had while he wrestled with him, to have left off before he obtained his desire; for the angel bid him leave off: “Let me go,” said he. He had wrestled all night, and had not prevailed, and now the day brake upon him, and consequently his discouragement was like to be the greater, for that now the majesty and terribleness of him with whom he wrestled, would be seen more apparently; but this did not discourage him. Besides, he lost the use of a limb as he wrestled with him; yet all would not put this Israel out. Pray he did, and pray he would, and nothing should make him leave off prayer, until he had obtained; and therefore he was called Israel. “For as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” Genesis 32:28-32 A wrestling spirit of prayer is a demonstration of an Israel of God. This Jacob had; this he made use of, and by this he obtained the name of Israel.
A wrestling spirit of prayer in straits, difficulties, and distresses; a wrestling spirit of prayer when alone in private, in the night, when no eye seeth but God’s; then to be at it, then to lay hold of God, then to wrestle, to hold fast, and not to give over until the blessing is obtained, is a sign of one that is an Israel of God. 2. “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” This was the testimony of the Lord Jesus concerning Nathaniel. Nathaniel was persuaded by Philip to come to Jesus: and as he was coming, Jesus saith to the rest of the disciples concerning him, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Then said Nathaniel to Jesus, “Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig-tree, I saw thee.” Nathaniel, as Jacob, was at prayer; at prayer alone under the fig-tree; wrestling in prayer for what no man can certainly tell, but probably for the Messiah, or for the revelation of him. For the seeing Jews were convinced that the time of promise was out; and all men were in expectation concerning John whether he might not be he. But Nathaniel was under the fig-tree alone with God, to inquire of him; and that with great earnestness and sincerity. Else the Lord Jesus would not thus have excused him of hypocrisy, and justified his action as he did; concluding from what he did there, that he was a true son of Jacob, and ought, as he, to have his name changed from what his parents gave him, to this given him of Christ, “an Israelite indeed.”
Wherefore from both these places, it is apparent, that a wrestling spirit of prayer in private, is one of the best signs that this or that man or woman is of Israel, and consequently, such as are within the compass of the exhortation here, saying, “Let Israel hope in the Lord.”
I say it is this wrestling spirit of prayer with God alone. For as for that of public prayer, (though I will not condemn it,) it gives not ground for this character, notwithstanding all the flourishes and excellencies that may therein appear. I am not insensible what pride, what hypocrisy, what pretenses, what self-seekings of commendations and applause, may be countenanced by those concerned in, or that make public prayer; and how little thought or savor of God, may be in all so said. But this closet, night, or alone prayer, is of another stamp, and attended (at least so I judge) with that sense, those desires, that simplicity, and those strugglings, wherewith that in public is not. Nay, I think verily that a man cannot addict himself to these most solemn retirements, without some of Jacob’s and Nathaniel’s sense and sincerity, wrestlings and restlessness for mercy. Wherefore, laying aside all other, I shall abide by this, That the man that is as I have here described, is not an Israelite of the flesh, nor one so only in his fancy or imagination, but one made so of God; one that is called a child of promise, and one to whom this exhortation doth belong: “Let Israel hope in the Lord;” that is, they that serve God by prayer day and night. These I say are Israel, the Israel of God. And let these hope in the Lord, from now, henceforth, and for ever.