|« Prev||Sermon XXI. Preached July 19, 1691.||Next »|
We are saved by hope.
WE have insisted largely in opening to you the great important truth contained in these words; and now, our yet remaining business is to make some use of it, which will be,
Use 1. In divers instructive inferences that this truth will afford us. As,
Inference 1. If we are saved by hope, then we are lost by despair; no inference can be more plain.
If the souls of men are to be saved by hope, they are liable to be lost by despair. And it hath been my great design, from this and some other texts, to do what in me should lie to keep you from that horrid gulph. But I must in faithfulness tell you, that there is, as to this, most danger where there is least apprehension or suspicion of it. There is a raging despair, and there is a silent dead despair. This latter is the fullest of danger, according as it is less obvious unto observation, and lies as a mortal disease in wrapping the hearts of them who suspect nothing less than that they should be despairing creatures. But when we are told that we are saved by hope, it cannot be understood by any hope whatsoever; for there is an hope that will undo, that will destroy; and so you may, ere long, have opportunity to know too, that there is a despair which is as necessary, as there is a hope that is mortal and destructive; but there is with all a deadly despair, that kills and destroys when it is never felt.
When we say we are saved by hope, it must be meant by the truly Christian hope; that hope that is vital, lively; the terminus productus in regeneration: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Pet. i. 3. We are begotten to a lively hope, an 291hope that lives. The want of this hope is the despair I mean; and it would not be despair in every subject; but in such a subject as is capable of that hope, and where that hope ought to be, it is despair. As the want of life is death in a man, but not in a stone; when there is not a lively hope terminating upon God, and upon a blessed eternity, and an unseen glory; when there is not such an hope, where that hope hath not its proper place, there lies and lurks this deadly despair. A vacancy of hope towards God and the blessedness of the other state, where it ought to be, and which indeed doth carry much of the essence in it (as we shall have further occasion to note) of the new creature; and it is the very perfection of human nature itself; to wit, to have a soul directed towards God by the power of a vital hope, continually expecting felicity and blessedness from him; I say, the vacancy of it is despair. But that perfection of our nature, regeneration brings in and supplies. “We are begotten again to a lively hope;” as the degeneration, deformity, and depravedness of human nature expels and keeps it out. But it so much belongs to a man as a man, that, as Philo Judaeus (who speaks but as such an one) doth fitly enough say, Hope in God is so much of human nature, that he is unworthy to be called a man that is destitute of it. Now that soul is destitute of it that hath no commerce with God, that hath nothing to do with him day by day. Where there is no hope, there is despair Godward, “without God, and without hope.” Ephes. ii. 12. You (whoever it be) that transact all your affairs without God, have nothing to do with God from morning to night, you have no hope; none of this vital hope, this living hope, by which we are to be saved. Do you hope in God, when you have nothing to do with him, when you mind him not, when no thought of him comes into your heart?
I pray, let none so deceive themselves as to think that there is no such thing as despair when they feel not the flames of hell in their souls; for, sure a lethargy may be as mortal as a burning fever; when there is such a stupidity upon the soul, such a mindlessness of God, that there is in reference to him neither fear nor hope. And as our present state is, even in reference to the business of salvation, there cannot be hope but there must be fear too; there is no such hope as to exclude fear in the present state, nor such fear as to exclude hope. But here is the dismal state of the ease, as to the moat, that they have neither hope nor fear 292in reference to the affairs of their souls, and their everlasting concerns; wherever they are, they have no thoughts of such matters; there is neither hope nor fear. And where, then, is that which should save you? If we are indeed to be saved by hope, we are lost by the vacancy of it, and when there is no such thing as fear also. But doth such a supine neglectfulness and ossitancy, with reference to the concerns of our souls and our everlasting state, agree with the common notion of us all; that this present state is but a state of probation and preparation, in reference to a final and eternal state? Is it so indeed? And have we, in reference to that final state, neither hope nor fear? What is like to be the issue of this? But,
Inference 2. We again infer, that the happiness of a Christian is future; for it is the object of hope,—that hope which is to have a continual influence upon his salvation, now the object of hope is somewhat future and unseen; somewhat that lies out of sight as yet. “We are saved by hope; but hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for it? But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it;” as the following words of the text shew us. Understand and consider aright then, the state of one that is a Christian indeed. He is one that hath his best and supreme good lying in futurity, and out of sight. He lives by that faith “which is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.” Heb. xi. 1. He is one that hath not his good things here. Luke xvi. 25. This is a true account of his state; his portion is not in this life. Psalm xvi. 1. His estate lies in reversion; it is somewhat expected, somewhat looked for; he takes hold of it by that hope which is cast, “as an anchor of the soul, within the veil; (Heb. vi. 19, 20.) whither Jesus, the forerunner, for us entered;” and so his title is sure, for there is such an one gone before, who, having procured, is thereupon gone to take possession of his inheritance for him.
Then, if you are to make an estimate or judgment of the condition of a Christian, a saint, a child of God, do not judge of it by present appearances, and the external state of his present case, while he is here in this world; so it may be an appearance, not only mean, but frightful;—you may behold him not only a despised one, but an hated one, persecuted, trodden under foot by an injurious, angry world; angry for this, that he seems not to have his satisfaction in the same things that they have, but to be aiming at 293somewhat else above and beyond them. This is displeasing; this is ungrateful. The world doth not understand such a sort of men: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!—therefore the world knoweth us not, (1 John iii. 1.) because it knew him not.” It knows nothing at all of this race, neither father, nor children. The world knows nothing of them; it cannot tell how to form an idea, a distinct notion, of this sort of men, that are so descended, and of such a parentage. They are men of another genius, another spirit, another kind of design. The tendency of their course is another way, and they know not what to make of it; “therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not;” and because it doth not know, it hates. And all the effects of hatred many times appear mighty conspicuous towards that sort of men; and would do more, it is likely, if they did appear more like themselves, and did more plainly avow their unrelatedness to this world, and their relation to, and expectations from an upper world, an higher world. But as it is, as the divine nature that is in them doth more or less speak forth, and shew itself, so it stirs the indignation of a deserted forsaken world against them, in whom that nature is and doth appear. And then, by this means, they come to be counted the scum and offscouring of all things.
Therefore their condition is not to be judged of by such measures as these; do not judge of the bonum, the optabile, what is good, and what is desirable in the state of a sincere living Christian, by these present appearances, that lie under common view, as now he is a mean, despised, hated thing; but consider him in that state which his hopes do aim at and tend to, and then you will behold him arrayed with the garments of salvation; for it is the hope of salvation that aids him, animates him, and carries him through his course, and which finally will actually save him. Be hold him as he is crowned with a diadem of glory, and associated with that blessed community of saved ones, as one that comes to bear his part in adorning the triumphs of his great and glorious Lord and Redeemer, in that day when he shall appear to be “admired in his saints, and to be glorified in all them that believe;” because the gospel testimony was received among them in the proper day and season thereof. And judge now what it is to be a Christian; take your measures of the state of a Christian by 294what he hopes for; not by what he is, but what he reasonably and groundedly hopes to be. And again,
Inference 3. The futurities of a Christian are far more considerable than all the present enjoyments of this world. “We are saved by hope;” and, for this world, it is well if we can be saved from it; but we are never to expect being saved by it; but by the hope of these great futurities we are saved. Then, certainly, a Christian’s futurities are far more considerable, and far more eligible, than all present worldly enjoyments whatsoever. And you may judge so by this, that such an one is inspired from heaven itself with such an hope as this, that makes him neglect all this earth, and breathe and tend continually upwards. That is a true judgment which proceeds from the directions and operations of the Divine Spirit. He that hath made them hope hath made them thus judge; (for they do not hope irrationally or brutishly,) that the enjoyments of this world are not comparable to the expectations of believers in reference to the other world. You may trust to that judgment which is made in the virtue, and by the special direction of his Spirit, who is the God of hope: “The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,” as the apostle’s expression is, Rom. xv. 13.
Therefore, if you would make a judgment in this case, which is the most desirable thing, a large, full, and opulent portion here in this world, or “an inheritance with the saints in light,” guide your judgment, (if you cannot judge by an immediate light of your own,) by theirs, who may best be presumed to have light in this matter; to wit, that have this divine principle put into them by God himself, which looks with neglect upon all present things, and waving and overlooking them, turns away from them, and tends its eye and course forwards towards an unseen glory and felicity elsewhere. We do commonly take that as likely to be true, which the wisest and most judicious commonly agree in. Now this is the agreed sense of all the children of God in all times and ages: and thereupon they are carried, according to judgment and choice, to wave a present portion and felicity in this world, and seek it elsewhere; we may certainly conclude, that the heavenly felicity, which is hoped for by this sort of men, is every way more considerable, eligible, and desirable, than the best worldly portion that can be had here on earth. But it is a great matter when we assent to this, (which we shall do notionally, as soon as we hear it notionally,) to have 295also the living sense thereof wrought into our souls, so as to be able to say, I not only know it to be so, but I feel it to be so. But again, further,
Inference 4. We may infer that hope is the life of all true and serious religion. If there be any such thing as living Christianity among us, hope is the life of it. You will easily apprehend, that religion is the way to felicity, the means to the blessed end. But what kind of religion must it be? Not dead religion, but living; and there can be no living religion but what is animated by hope, and by the hope of that very end, to which it is itself in a tendency. The religion of the present state is nothing else but inchoate felicity; it is heaven begun; it is a coming to God, and tending towards him. It is one and the same principle by which any thing doth move and rest. The same nature which is the principle of motion and of rest. If religion be a principle of motion to carry us unto God, it will be a principle of rest, to give us the actual repose and satisfaction and solace of soul, that being in him consists in. But this must be living religion, and not dead. And there can be no life in it but as it is continually inspired by hope.
Religion being an aiming at God, a tendency towards God, to wit, the religion of the way; the religion of the present state; it must continually be influenced by such an apprehension as this, that he is willing to be a “rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Heb. xi. 6. And it is this faith that is the immediate foundation of hope. I hope I shall find him the rewarder of ray soul. I hope my labour in the Lord will not be in vain. This is that that doth in spirit religion, and make it a living thing. There is indeed a religion in the world that hath no life in it, that lies all in empty shew, and form, and external appearance. But, if there be life in it, hope is the life of it. I hope I shall reach a blessed end at last in this way. The business of religion is to seek God; in seeking him I hope that I shall find him; I find life, and satisfaction, and felicity, and eternal blessedness in him. This hope is the soul of religion, and the very life of it.
And you ought to consider it so; that, accordingly, the several parts of your religion may be animated and influenced by it. Those are dull duties, that are not considered as your way to your end. Every such duty as we are now engaged in at this time should be considered thus: this is 296part of my way to heaven, part of my way to a blessed eternity; we are now met here with that expectation and hope, that we shall, ere long, be taken up to the “general assembly and church of the first-born; to an innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect. Heb. xii. 23. This would make the duties and ordinances of every Lord’s day lively things with us, when we are all aiming to take hold, in every such duty, of” the end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls.” But if we come together here only to see one another’s faces, or to hear the sound of a few empty words, without knowing whither they tend, without minding to what end they serve, or what they aim at, or because we know not how else to spend so many hours of a day that is not allowed for our common labour; we shall make but a flat thing of our religion. But if our religion be a living thing, hope is the end of it,—I hope my way will end in eternal felicity at length; this is my way to God and glory, and to a blessed eternity. And,
Inference 5. You may further learn that all serious religion doth involve and carry in it a design for salvation and eternal blessedness: for we are saved by the hope of this, and there can be no hope of it without the design of it; what we hope for we design for, otherwise our hope is altogether an useless, inactive thing in us. We are only saved by hope, as by hope we are prompted to design salvation, and are made lively and vigorous in the prosecution of that design; which way else should hope save us, but as it engageth to lay a design for salvation, and as it enables us with life and vigour to prosecute that design, as a compassable thing, as a thing that may be brought about, and, by God’s gracious vouchsafement, will and shall f
And it is therefore deeply to be considered, that our hope of being saved, and our design for salvation, must measure one another; he that drives no such design through the whole of his abode in this world, he must be looked upon as one of those (of whom I have told you before) that hath no hope in him; no living hope; was never begotten to a lively hope. If he have a living hope in him of a final felicity in God, that will continually prompt him to design, and to prosecute his design with strength and vigour, for a blessed and a glorious eternity. And I pray let us make our reflexion seriously upon this, as in the sight and presence of God. Do we carry it from day to day as those that are striving a design for salvation and eternal glory? 297As those that are going to heaven? As candidates of eternal heavenly felicity? Do we live like such? Then should we be every day on the wing, reaching forth (as it is the nature of hope to do) with fervent, raised, aspirings towards the heavenly state. We that have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan within ourselves, (as it is spoken in the immediate foregoing verse in this context,) waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body; for we are saved by hope, so the words are connected. We are saved by the hope of that very state, wherein we are to be owned openly of God, as his children; which is here called the adoption.
There was among the Romans a double adoption; there was a private adoption; that is, the foundations were laid by some private act. But afterwards it came to be declared in foro, and to be enrolled, that such an one did adopt such an one, to be his son. And, it is in reference to this latter sort of adoption, or the complement and solemnization of it, that we are said to wait for the adoption; that is, the children of God, they that were adopted before; fundamentally they yet wait for the solemnization of that adoption, when the manifestation shall be of the sons of God, when it shall be declared before angels and men, as it will, in the judgment of the great day, These I take for my sons and adopted ones; and it is by the hope of this we are saved, for we are saved by hope, as immediately there followeth. And I say, that this hope can no otherwise save them, than as it doth continually influence a design of that salvation. But if our great business here in this world be from day to day nothing else but to feed upon the dust of the earth, and to please and indulge self, and the flesh; if this be the design we are daily striving, we have none of this hope that saves souls; where that hope is, a correspondent design cannot but be. The religion of such involves and carries in it a continual design for the blessedness of the heavenly state: therefore nothing can be more incongruous and absurd, than to keep up a shew and face of religion, while yet the hearts of men, if they will but reflect are conscious to themselves of no such design: they are not aiming at God, or at blessedness in God; the possessing of a future felicity, and glory in him, and with him. They cannot justly and truly pretend to such a thing. Then (I say) is a course of religion the greatest absurdity in the world; to do in a continued course those actions that have only reference unto such an end, and never to refer to that 298end. To be religious without design, to wit, the proper design of religion, (which is felicity,) nothing can be more absurd.
Objection. But it may be said, how is it possible that a man should be religious without design? A man doth not act in religion, but it must be done voluntary; and if it be done voluntary, it must be done for an end, so there can be no such thing (you will say) as keeping up a course of religion, without a design.
Answer. Very true, indeed, there could be no such thing as keeping up a course of religion, without a design; but that is not the matter I speak of, a design in general. A man cannot do a series of merely human actions without some design or other, or simply without any design; but when the actions that make up a course of religion are done, we cut this design for the proper end of religion: Here lies the absurdity and incongruity that I now stale, to tear a series and course of actions from their proper end, and not refer them to that end, this is most irrational trifling; As if, when all the other actions of a man’s life are done for a certain determinate end only in the great business of religion, he plays the fool, he doth the thing, but never minds the end; keeps such days as these; comes to church; attends upon the public solemnities of God’s worship; but never thinks of heaven, never minds eternal glory, as the thing in this way to be designed for. And so his religion, and the duties of it, bear no proportion to his end, to that end that they were made for. There is a two-fold design driven by religion, or by carrying on a course of religion by very different sorts of men. That is a design for this world, and a design for the world to come: some are religious only with a design for this world; to wit, that I may carry it fair with men in this world, or with that sort of men which I think fittest, and have some inducements which lead me to associate with, to apply myself to them, and to have their good opinion, and have a good reputation among them; I am willing, therefore, to be as they are, and to do as they do; here is a design for this world driven in religion, and the actions and duties of it; not (it may be) to gain; but there may be many worldly designs, besides that of gain; worldly repute and credit among those whose opinion I most esteem, and put a value upon, and to whom, therefore, in such a way, I think to approve and recommend myself.
But there is also a design driven in religion for the world 299to come. And this is the true and proper design of religion. And where the former only is designed, we can hardly ever comprehend in our thoughts a more horrid frightful case; when a man is doing the great sacred acts of religion, without a design for their proper end, and in mere subserviency to some mean and inferior design, by how much the less that is, or the lower the design is, or by how much the less is to be got by it, so much is religion the lower debased; being thereby put into a subserviency to that which, it may be, shall be worth nothing to men; that I shall never gain by one way or other: and yet, I choose to do acts of religion; or to do these, and not take other acts thereof; or, to do these I do in this or that form; and do all in accommodation to some secular purpose, and design: but the eternal purposes of religion are forgotten, neglected, and never thought of by me. This is to prostitute the most sacred, venerable thing imaginable, (religion,) to the meanest and most despicable end.
How is this to be answered for, or wherein can we possibly conceive a more horrid sort of sacrilege than this? The acts of religion have a sacredness in them; but I aliene them from their proper end. This I do not, in order to the serving of God; not in order to the saving of my soul; or not in reference to an eternal state; but I do it to please my own present humour, or my friend’s humour. Is this that indeed which we will resolve our religion into? Such trifling with religion is that, which will be dearly accounted for at the last day. To do that which we ought to do for pleasing and glorifying of God, and saving our souls in the day of the Lord Jesus, we cannot tell why, or for what reason, will come to a fearful reckoning at last. We ought to bethink ourselves at all such times, when we are thus assembled; What am I here to day for? Why did I come to this place this morning? Why did I take upon me to make one, and bear a part in a Christian religious assembly? Did I do it as one that hoped for salvation, and expected eternal life in this way? Was it that I might draw so much nearer to God, and be so much the more acquainted with him, and fitted for that state which I profess to hope for? But again,
Inference 6. We may further learn, that there is a very great sagacity belonging to the new creature, and the regenerate state; we are saved by hope; this imports the new creature, those that are born of God in order to eternal life, to be a very sagacious sort of creatures. The new 300creature is a very foreseeing creature; it is in this, eminently distinguished from other creatures, even of the same rank and order in God’s creation; to wit, merely human creatures: whereas others look merely, or only, to the present, here is a strange foresight in this sort of creature that is born of God, by which it eyeth, and looketh towards salvation, and eternal blessedness. As soon as it is born, “It is begot ten again to a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance reserved in heaven for it.” 1 Peter i. 3. The new creature hath an hope belonging to its essence; as soon as it begins to be, and breathe, it begins to hope. It is born to the hope of immortality and eternal life.
We ought to consider this, and a great judgment is to be made of our own state, by what we find instilled into ourselves of that spiritual sagacity and foresight. There are many that are apt to be foreseeing, (and value themselves greatly upon it) of temporary events, the probability of such and such events, and love to discourse and reason thereupon; as politicians, or as prophets, they can value themselves greatly upon such foresight; but here is the true foresight that sees into eternity.
That is the best, and clearest, and strongest sight that can see furthest; that overlooks (it may be) the concernments of to-morrow, of this year and the next, within the bounds and compass of time; yea, looks beyond all time, penetrates into eternity, beholds the judgment seat, the Judge sat, the books opened, the dead raised, and men disposed severally to their eternal states. The new creature, that divine birth, which fetcheth its original immediately from God, this is its sagacity; with such sagacity and foresight it is endowed. “We are saved by hope,” we have an hope by which we expect to be saved, which penetrates into the unseen futurities of an everlasting state. And,
Inference 7. We may hereupon conclude too, That there is a certain generosity, a nobleness, a greatness of mind that doth belong unto a regenerate person. The new creature, one that is born of God, by which he is borne up above all this world, tramples upon it, scorns its smiles, smiles at its frowns and scorns, despiseth its threats and terrors, looks still beyond it and above it. What is all this world to me? A shadow, a despicable vanity! My great concernments lie above in a superior world, in a remoter world. This is generous and great. Oh! saith one that is 301born of God, I cannot live at the common rate, I cannot live upon this country fare, I must fetch in all the provisions I live by, from day to day, from heaven; eat heavenly food, and drink heavenly drink, such meat and such drink as the world affords not; for such a prepossession, and such a pre-occupation, there is by hope or the felicity of heaven, and of the heavenly state. They do support this frail mortal life as others do; but they have another life that is to be supported in another way, and by other means; and in reference to which they find an unsuitableness in all things under the sun, as we should in gravel for our meat, and puddle for our drink; so that if you ask such an one, what he lives by, as to the maintenance of that nobler life that is in him, he will answer, by hope.
You may possibly (some of you) have heard and read of a great Prince and General, who, upon a conquest, dispensing great largesses among his Soldiers, was asked, And what, Sir, do you reserve for yourself? Why hope, saith he. I, for my part, live upon hope. I give away all that I have now got, and live upon the hope of more. This is the generosity and nobleness of mind that is in-wrought into a regenerate person, When he becomes so, he despiseth all things under the sun as a portion, as a final terminative good, and lives upon hope. And this we must come to, if ever we come to know what it is to be Christians. It is too little understood (I am afraid to this day) what it is to be a Christian, though we have long borne that name. Are not we told, they are a sort of people called out of the world? “They are not of this world,” (saith our blessed Lord, in that concluding solemn prayer of his, when he was going out of the world,) “even as I am not of this world.” John xvii. 16. Oh, what an horrid thing would it be to contradict our blessed Lord, in the sense of our own hearts! He saith, “they are not of this world;” but here is one answering, Aye, Lord, but I am of this world; one with this world, united to it: I savour the things of the world, as the men of the world do; I choose with them, and enjoy with them: a fearful thing from the sense of our hearts, to contradict our blessed Lord! to have him say, “They that are mine are not of this world, as I am not of this world;” and we be forced to say, concerning ourselves, Yes, but we are of this world, and related to this world more than any other, and savour the things of this world more than any other.
There are sundry other inferences more that I intend 302now to go through, but there is one thing for the present, I would shut up with, though I do therein anticipate and prevent myself; that is, only to recommend this one thing to you, as a piece of solemn counsel and serious consideration, that you will labour to get your souls possessed of this principle, and direct it towards its final object; let it reach forth even unto the very last of the object that it is to be taken up about; for this we must know, that there are intermediate objects, and there is that at length which is most finally final. But hope hath its strongest and most powerful influences, as it doth reach furthest, reach into a most glorious eternity; and makes us say within ourselves, I hope to be there ere long. What a wonderful thing would it be, if we could always worship under such an hope! what mighty vigour would it infuse into our religion, to say to every one that meet together in such an assembly: We meet together in hope and expectation of having our eternal abode with that blessed society above, in the mansions of glory that are prepared already in our Father’s house! To have this hope live in us, what life would it not transfuse through all our duties, and through the whole course of our religion!
And what a pleasant relish would it give to all our present mercies, such as we have greater occasion, more solemnly to bless God for; when we have matter of praise laid before us, and offered to us, as we have at this clay! We have heard of the great success God hath blessed and crowned them with, who have been fighting his battles of late, especially in a neighbouring kingdom. It is a great thing to say, Blessed be God that hath done so much, and I hope will do more, and will enable them to carry on the work further; and i hope beyond all that, that I shall be one of the saved community at last. What spirit and life would that add to our prayer and praise!
And on the other side, what a damp and diminution would it be to all our matter of praise, and to the praisefulness of our spirits, to say, I have heard, indeed, that things have gone pretty well of late in Savoy, in Germany, and greatly well in Ireland; but all this while I have no hope of being saved; I have no hope of things going well with me hereafter: things may go well here, for aught I know, with them to whom I wish well; but I have no hope that things will go well with me for ever, or in an everlasting state. What a damp is this to the great praisefulness of a man’s spirit, and what a diminution to the present matter 302of his praise! It is an insignificant thing for me to put in my rejoicing with their joy, who are pleased with any such good successes at these; and in the mean time to be forced to say, Alas! there is a dreadful doom hanging over me, and over my soul; I have nothing in me that looks like a principle of the divine life; and yet I am sure that life must be now begun in me, that must be connected with eternal life. A present spiritual death hath no connection with eternal life, it must be a spiritual life, of which this hope (as you have heard) is so great a principle, that shall end in life eternal.
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