« PreviousContinue »
WHEN Alexander was about to undertake the conquest of Asia, he distributed his possessions among his friends. Some one, observing the magnificence of his presents, asked him what he intended to retain for himself. He replied, Hope. The servants of Christ, though in general little resembling, and little anxious to imitate, the lords of this world, may justly adopt the language of the Grecian hero. They have engaged in an enterprize so great, they aspire to a kingdom so rich and glorious, that they can well afford to abandon to others the ordinary honours and gratifications of life. Hope is their portion; a hope “full of immortality.” How should they exchange it for any worldly possessions, or even consent to share it with transient and perishable pleasures! “Opes, honores, et universum vitæ ambitum, ad majora nati, non contemnunt, sed relinquunt sæculo!*.”
There is, perhaps, no Christian grace which is more characteristic of the religion to which it belongs, than that which has just been mentioned. Hope is the natural support of those who are for a time subjected to trials, and whose success depends upon their perseverance. It
See Epitaph on Isaac Barrow.
necessarily supposes a fixed and entire preference of some state of things which is expected, over that which is
possessed. And it has the peculiar power of so realizing to the fancy what is removed from the senses, and borrowing, as it were, a happiness from futurity, that where it is lively and vigorous, it can shed a light on the most obscure path, can soften every sorrow, and make every labour light. Thus it seems to point out, in a single word, the nature of the Christian Pilgrimage in this world; the views and expectations best fitted to supply refreshment in our journey; and the temper and disposition of mind to which both should give birth;-a temper at once serious and cheerful; prepared for the trials of religion, and sensible of its consolations; collected, but not gloomy; and joyful without levity and without excess.
I have often thought that the goodness of God is, if possible, more distinctly marked in the injunctions which he has imposed on us, than even in the promises which he has given us, or the evidences of bounty and beneficence scattered through the natural creation. He has so identified our duty with our happiness, he has selected with such profound wisdom and unspeakable mercy the sources of our perfection and only lasting good, as the proper evidences of our allegiance, -that I know not how any one, who has been accustomed to consider human nature attentively, can fail to discover in this beautiful arrangement the stamp of a Divine original. This truth can hardly be better illustrated than by the Christian grace which we are now considering. Had Hope been left unnoticed by the inspired writers, had it been wholly omitted in the circle of Christian duties, is it not plain that every good man must secretly have cherished the blessed sentiment for his consolation, strength, and joy? Must he not have sought, in its cheering influence, a light in this land of shadows; and clung to it as an anchor on which to ride in 'safety amid the temptations and sufferings of this stormy region? How gratefully then should we receive, how diligently cherish, that blessed provision which the bounty of our Maker has furnished! How deeply adore the gracious Father who has encouraged and enjoined us, in imitation of our Redeemer, to "look unto the joy that is set before us;" “to endure the cross and despise the shame," "having respect unto the recompense of the reward.”
“Henceforth I learn that to obey is best
It happens, I imagine, not unfrequently, that Christians, especially in their early acquaintance with religion, feel some surprise at the exalted station which St. Paul has assigned to Hope, among the chief graces of the Gospel, supported by Faith on the one side and heavenly Charity on the other. It appears singular, at, a first glance, that a feeling which seems to be almost instinctive, with little of a moral nature attached to it, and, as we should judge, inseparable from the anticipation of future happiness, should not only be reckoned among the duties, but even ranked with the highest attainments of the Christian life. But this difficulty, with many others, disappears as we become better acquainted with religion ;--like a speck floating before the eyes, it is the imperfection of our senses, not a defect in the object we contemplate. It is too plain that the hope which St. Paul has so highly exalted is na
* Par. Lost, lib. 12.
vulgar or ordinary affection. Look on the world around, and survey the conduct and characters of men. Can the largest charity believe that the hope of a Christian is among the common principles of action? Are worldly persons in any visible or effectual measure animated by a lively and joyful expectation of "the glory which shall be revealed?” I fear there is little doubt, that if the hearts of our fellow-creatures were laid open, none would appear to be deeply affected with the hopes of the Gospel, but those who love its precepts. Let us then consider some of the peculiar features which belong to the Christian Hope, that we may the more justly appreciate its excellence.
The Hope of the Gospel is founded on the promises of the Gospel. It has its root therefore in faith. It is among the fairest and most delightful fruits of that parent stock of all Christian excellence. In proportion, too, as our faith is lively, will our hope be animated and joyful; and so inseparable are these kindred graces, that in a large proportion, perhaps in a majority of instances, the word expressive of the one might be substituted for the other in holy writ, without any material alteration of the passage. However, the ideas are not identical. Faith includes a belief in all the declarations of God; in the more awful parts of his economy as well as in the more gracious; in his threatenings as well as his promises; Hope has respect only to the rewards which his bounty has set before us, and supposes not merely a deep conviction of their re: ality, but a joyful perception of their approach, and of our own expected and inestimable interest in them. It seems to belong, therefore, to a more advanced state of Christian knowledge and experience. It is Faith in its
progress towards Love; elevated a little above the damps of this chilling clime, and cheered with the beams of a brighter region, but not yet exalted to the seat of everlast. ing rest.
The excellence and value of this Christian grace will be further evident, if we consider that Hope necessarily implies an intimate acquaintance with the objects of its de sire. No man can earnestly hope for any thing which he does not long to possess; and no man ever desired ardently to be in possession of a blessing which he had not first learned to appreciate. If therefore we would glow with the hope of immortality, it is indispensable that we acquire a just and lively apprehension of its value. There is in deed, a certain notion of future happiness, which is easily formed, and therefore perhaps pretty general; made up of negatives, like the idea of space, infinite in extent and filled with nothing. This might do tolerably well, if in our present state we had no temptations to encounter, and no image of perfect holiness to which we must aspire. But he surely must be little acquainted with human nature, who can imagine that an apprehension so indefinite, an expectation so vague and indistinct, will prove, in such a world as this, a practical principle of much efficacy. Man was not made to be powerfully affected by abstractions. Our appetites and passions are continually solicita ing us to evil; the most powerful elements of our nature are among our enemies, tending to sin by their own corruption, or capable too readily of being allured towards it.
The visible objects of this world press immediately upon our senses; their language is sufficiently distinct, the bribes they offer, alas! but too intelligible. Can we flatter ourselves that such enemies are to be overcome by names