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We are saved by hope.
I SHALL now proceed in giving you further directions for the getting this noble principle cultivated and improved. And to that end, in the next place,
Direction 2. We should labour to extend our hope to its highest and utmost object, its supreme and ultimate object. According as we stretch it further, it works more, and it becomes so much the more a lively and potent thing in us. And do I need to tell what its supreme and ultimate object is? Our best good must be our highest hope, and you can be in no doubt what that is. “And now (Lord) what wait I for? my hope is in thee.” Psalm xxxix. 7. “Why art thou cast down, oh! my soul, why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God.” Psalm xlii. 5, 11. and xliii. 5. He must be to us, in respect of our hope, (as in respect of our choice, and love, and delight,) our only one. “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth I desire besides thee.” Psalm lxxiii. 25. This is plain and out of question, God is to be our highest hope.
But concerning this, we are to note further, That it is God, as he is, most perfectly to be enjoyed in the most perfect state, that is to be the object of oar hope: some 315shadow of which truth was in the mind of that noted philosopher, when he speaks of felicity, as that which is to be enjoyed in the most perfect state of life. But it is that which we are most deeply to consider, when we design God for the great object of our hope. It must be as he is to be enjoyed most perfectly, to wit, in the best and most perfect state. It is plain that that state is here referred to in this context, and in the text itself, if you will judge its reference by the context. Look to the words that do immediately precede; see whither their aspirings do aim and tend. “We who have received the first fruits of the Spirit, groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our bodies; for we are saved by hope.” The hope of the final felicity and blessedness of that state, when there should be a perfect redemption of the body. It is an hope of felicity, which will be in its perfection, after being raised from the dead.
And this the Apostle, by another significant name, calls the adoption; to wit, the solemn manifestation of the sons of God, as was the expression a little above, and as is intimated in another place. “Now we are the sons of God, but it doth not yet appear what we shall be.” 1 John iii. 1. Our sonship, and the glory and dignity of our adopted state, is not yet displayed or discovered what it is; but it shall be; and the time is coming when it shall: so that the like thing is intimated here, as did obtain among the Romans, to wit, that adoptions were with them twofold. There was a private adoption that was preparatory, and leading to a following public one. Such an one doth first in private pitch upon such a person as he adopts for his own son, and afterwards there is a public notification thereof in foro; here it was declared with public solemnity. And it is in this latter sense, and in accommodation there unto, that this perfect state of the sons of God is called the adoption.
And as we are to take heed lest any temporary or terrene thing should be designed by us, as the main and terminative object of our hope; so that that which is in its kind, higher and better, and most noble and excellent, we must take heed lest itself be made the final term of our hope, in any state of imperfection, that things even of that kind do yet lie under. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are miserable creatures,” 1 Cor. xv. 19. Our hope must shoot forward into another state, we must cast 316anchor into that which is within the vail. Heb. vi. 19. Even this anchor of hope. And again,
Direction 3. We must labour to have our minds well informed concerning that state which our hope is finally to terminate upon not to content ourselves with a confused general idea of some great felicity hereafter, in another world, and after this life; but we must labour, as distinctly as we can, to apprehend what it is, and wherein it consists and lies; for our hope will be in its operations proportionably lively and vigorous, as our apprehensions concerning its objects are distinct and clear; our souls cannot be attracted, and drawn, and enlivened, and raised, by obscure and shadowy apprehensions only of that which we make its final object. And we are not in greater danger of wronging ourselves in any thing more than here, and about this matter.
The generality of men, the generality of them that live under the gospel, and that call themselves” Christians; oh, how little is understood among them of the truly Christian hope! The apostle prayeth for his Christian Ephesians, that they might know the hope of their calling; that they might understand what they are to hope for, what they are called to, the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, that that might be understood. Men of carnal minds, they are apt accordingly to form the notion of all things, and where there is yet a prevailing carnality, even under the gospel men do take their measures of future felicity and misery, according to what notions they have of perfect good and evil; and their notions of present good and evil they are taken only from the dictates of sense. Good and evil are estimated by us according to their accommodations or dis-accommodations to flesh and sense; that is taken for good which is grateful to carnal sense; and that for evil that is ungrateful to it. And no higher are they wont to go; but what would be good or evil to an intelligent immortal mind and spirit, herein they little concern themselves for the most part.
And hence are the notions too common even among Christians of Mahometan Paradises hereafter, or of Paganish Elysiums; indeed usually they go no further, when they are forming their notions of what is meant by salvation, than only to think of the privitive part, and by that privitive part, they mean only being freed from that which they think would be tormenting to the flesh; and because 317the scripture doth make use of such phrases and forms of speech for our help, therefore are we wont to abuse them to our hurt, and to the depraving and narrowing of our minds and understandings touching these things; all the salvation that the most concern themselves about is, to be freed from fire and brimstone, that they think will torment the flesh; and the apprehension is dreadful, when they are told of such a state of torment as eternal and everlasting; but how much the more the mind and spirit of a man is a greater, and nobler, and more excellent thing than a little animated clay that he carries about with him, so much the more must the good and evil of the future state, which is accommodate to the mind and spirit, be greater and higher than any thing that flesh is capable of, in point either of enjoyment or suffering.
And it ought to be considered, that, whereas the happiness of an intelligent creature can only be in the fruition of God; I say it ought deeply to be considered, what it is to all eternity, to lose this enjoyment, and to be cut off from him: and this is the greatest of your salvation, to be saved from that misery which must of all things be most tormenting to an intelligent mind and spirit; to wit, I am cut off everlastingly from the enjoyment of that highest and best good whereof I was capable; I was capable of it, and have lost it.
Here is the sting and the fire of hell, its hottest fervour, and by this it is, that the soul must be the everlasting tormentor itself. This is it that gives the ground for those (morsus) bitings, wounds, and gnawings of the worm that never dies. Oh, that I should debase a mind, a spirit; so noble a thing, so excellent a thing; to a capacity only of converse with earthly things, and thereby to lose for ever the enjoyment of the blessed God, as having lost my capacity for it, stifled it myself, and therewith lost my interest in it: and so as that thereupon divine justice might do an equal thing, and a becoming thing, and that God might do like himself, as, became himself; I should therefore hear from him, “Depart from me, accursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels;” Go, accursed creature, into the state which thou choosest.
A salvation from such misery as this, you must labour distinctly to understand, to be the great object of your hope. I hope through the grace of God I shall be saved from this, from ever having things brought to this sad and forlorn pass with me. And so by salvation, though it 318sound privative, yet is chiefly meant that which is most highly positive; and lest we should mistake sometimes, we find this positive added in express terms, “salvation by Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” Tim. ii. 10.
This (I say) we must labour to understand distinctly, that so our hope may operate strongly and vigorously, as it will according to the apprehension that we have of the object of it; when this comes to be distinctly understood, (inasmuch as the way of the Spirit’s working upon the minds and souls of men is suitable to their own intelligent and rational nature;) the life and vigour that Spirit doth exert, and put forth in this way upon the souls of men, it is so much the higher, and so much the more efficacious, by how much the apprehensions are clearer about the things in which I hope, or for which I hope.
When once this is understood, then will the soul say, (if once it be reduced to a capacity of acting like itself; to wit, like an intelligent thing,) What? Shall I for a trifle lose so great an hope? Then the gospel looks big, and appears great in our view, and what? Shall I lose all this? All this glory, all this felicity, and all that fulness of joy that is to be eternal, for a trifle? for the gratifying my own lust, or pleasing my own fancy, or the fancy of a friend, as he calls himself? But he is, indeed, my greatest enemy, as I am in truth the greatest enemy to myself, while I am apt to be imposed upon by such delusive appearances and semblances of things, against my own good and interest. Shall I for the pleasure of a debauch in company, as vain as I can be, ruin so great an hope as this? “He that hath this hope in him purifies himself as God is pure.” But then also,
Direction 4. You must take this further direction, to wit, when you have got the notion in any measure competently clear, concerning the state of salvation, the felicity and glory of the future state, then labour most firmly and stedfastly to believe it. You must have a right notion of it first, else you believe you know not what. But let me have never so distinct a notion of the best and most delectable state that can be thought of, it never affects me, nor can rationally, unless I believe it to be a reality. The most pleasing ideas cannot draw forth rational endeavours, unless I be possessed with the apprehension, that it is a real attainable good that I am to act for.
Therefore, to that purpose, consider, I pray you, what the apostle gives us of the notion of that faith which is to 319be indeed immediately fundamental of our hope, Heb. xi. 1. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen; if one have never so clear a notion of the most delectable state that it is possible for any one to form and conceive in his own mind, and he doth not look upon this as substantial, as an actual substance, it cannot affect him, it cannot attract him, and draw forth the strength and vigour of his soul in a pursuit after it: therefore, here the work of faith comes in, and that is to substantiate, to be to us the very substance of that which we are to hope for, and to be the evidence of that which yet we do not see; and how could faith do this? Why truly even by that which is intrinsical and natural to it; reliance upon his testimony whom we believe. Human faith is a reliance upon an human testimony; divine faith is a reliance on a divine testimony. I take the word of God about the truth of that I have not seen with my own eyes; and his word representing to me a lovely, pleasant, amiable object hereafter, perfectly to be enjoyed; believing the revelation to be true, I thereupon hope for the thing revealed.
As suppose an overture were made to any of you of making a purchase of an estate in lands where you have not been, or which you do not know; it may be you may have some friend or other that hath been there, and that can give a true and distinct description, and tell you how all things lie; he tells you how very commodious and pleasant a seat there is, or may easily be had; why according as you believe, or disbelieve this man’s report, this testimony of his, so is your hope of doing well, and living happily in such a place, lively or not lively, vivid or faint and languid; according (I say) as you believe him, or do not believe him, you having not seen the thing with your own eyes.
This is the case here, God hath told us how it is above, in that state where we have not been, what is to be enjoyed there, what our employments are to be, what our company, and what our state every way. Saith the considering soul, It is true, I have not been in the third heavens, I do not know the order of things there by any experience of my own; but I believe in him that hath told me this; I know he can have no design to deceive me; what can he get by imposing on a worm? When he hath made such a discovery and sworn to it; As I live, so and so it is, and so it shall be. By these two immutable things I apprehend it to be impossible for God to lie: therefore here is strong 320consolation for them to fly to for refuge, who have this hope set before them. Heb. vi. 18, 19, 20.
But how much another thing is that faith which thus relies upon, and resolves itself into the authority of the divine word, over-awing the soul into an entire acquiescence in the truth of it, and so as to still and silence all abmurmurations and mutterings to the contrary: I dare not think otherwise but that thus it is. How much more (I say) another thing is this faith which so substantiates its object in this way and method, from that which vulgarly goes under the name of faith among us? The common opinion that men have, that there is a world to come, and so and so men may enjoy, or suffer in that other world, that is a mere traditional belief of these things, without ever considering the true and proper grounds why we admit any such belief into our minds and hearts at all; but we believe, because such and such have so told us. It is the common belief, all the people of our country were of this mind, all our forefathers were of this mind; but God, and the authority of his revelation comes not into the case, never falls into consideration at all.
And this faith as it is groundless, so it is fruitless; for the ground of faith, and the efficacy of it, measure one another; faith is always proportionably efficacious as it is grounded well and strongly; that which depends upon nothing doth nothing, effects nothing. It is very plain, that for this common faith which men have about a future state, and which is nothing else but opinion, mere opinion, and nothing more; it effects nothing, operates nothing, it leaves men’s hearts the same; and accordingly the course of their practice is the same too, as if they were of guile a contrary belief. What a strange faith is that which, instead of power and efficacy, for the forming of the heart and governing the life, is just the same thing with infidelity, not distinguishable from infidelity; but in point of efficacy, faith and infidelity are the same? This man’s heart is as terrene as it would have been if he had been of no such belief, or of a quite contrary belief: and his practice as loose and irregular, having as little tendency in it towards the attainment of such a blessed state as he pretends to believe.
Pagans have seemed to have higher thought of faith than we have. Cicero tells us that among them (the Ro mans) there were shrines and temples dedicated to faith, and hope, as being certain tokens that God did dwell in 321those minds where these are: so he speaks of them; where upon they dedicated temples to them. When in those minds faith and hope did dwell, they looked upon these as certain evidences that God did dwell in those minds. But I beseech you, what argument is there to be taken from the faith and hope of these great futurities that are commonly pretended to among us, that God dwells in these minds? What evidence is there of an in-dwelling Deity, who raised these men, so sublime, so full of heaven, so full of holy aspirings? What is there like this, as the fruit of that faith and hope which are talked of, and pretended to amongst us? And then,
Direction 5. Take this direction, see that when you understand and do believe what the word of God informs us of, concerning the state of salvation, that is to be the final object of our hope, see (I say) that you do seriously desire it; that it is that which the inclination of our minds carries us to, so as earnestly to long for and covet it. Oh, that I were there! Oh, that I were possessed of the felicities and glories of that state! Otherwise, if you talk of hope of such a state, for which you do not find you have any real lively desires in your souls; you impose an impossible task upon yourselves and a contradiction. It is a perfect contradiction to hope for that which we do not desire, or to which the temper of our mind agrees not. If there be not an agreeableness in the frame of the heart and spirit unto such a state understood and believed, it can be no object of our hope. I may desire many things that I do not hope for, but I cannot hope for any thing that I do not desire; for hope always involves desire, though desire doth not al ways involve hope in it. There may be despairing desires, but hope hath for its object a future good, the same that desire hath; only hope doth superadd something to its object; (though that alters not the case as to this;) to wit, an apprehended difficulty, an arduousness as to the thing hoped for, otherwise desire and hope would be all one.
And about this it concerns us to deal very seriously and closely with ourselves, when we speak of hope as that mighty principle, which is to have influence towards salvation, by the influence whereof we are to be saved, (and are lost if that influence fail, and continue not;) we are to consider what we are to aim at, when we are to aim at the getting our souls possessed with such an hope; we must get them made suitable to the state hoped for; that we may be capable of desiring it; that our souls may fall in with 322it; that whereas that state commence that the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, we may be of those that love his appearing upon that account. And whereas it is the hope of a future felicity, by the power whereof grace teacheth men effectually to “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, and righteously, and godly in this present world;” that hope may be looked on by us as a blessed hope, “looking for the blessed hope, and glorious appearing of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ,” the very thought whereof (for there hope is taken objectively) is reviving to our souls, makes our hearts spring and leap in us.. If you do not desire the thing hoped for, it can never be a blessed hope to you; you cannot look upon it as such: one thought of that hope, that hope but thought of doth even bless my soul, doth make it live, diffuseth a vital influence through it.
That which is inconsistent with this is a terrene frame that continually carries us downward, a minding earthly things, that upon the account whereof the apostle speaks with tears concerning many of those Philippian Christians, to whom he writes. “I have told you of them, (saith he,) and I now tell you weeping, they are enemies to the cross of Christ;” that is, to the very design of his dying, which was to establish an eternal kingdom, a kingdom that is not of this world; they are enemies to his very cross; why, what doth characterize theta as such? Their minding earthly things. The design of his dying runs into eternity, into heaven; our conversation is in heaven, as the next words speak; but these men are all for this earth, nothing else is pleasing and grateful to them. If you give them hopes of great honour, and dignities, and riches, in this world, you take them by the heart; but tell them of the felicity of another world, you do but speak to them the words of a dream, they are mere shadows you present to their imaginations, things which they affect not, in which they feel no substance; there is nothing grateful to them in these things.
Always carry this about with you, that it is a most perfect mockery to talk of hope of that which you desire not. “E desire (saith the apostle) to be dissolved and to be with Christ:” this is their strain who are under the power of the truly Christian hope: not as if such actual desires were the constant character of a regenerate soul, because there may be some accidental interveniencies that may damp that act of desire, may interrupt and hinder it; to wit, they may be in 323doubt about the state of their case God-wards. Therefore, they cannot be positive in desiring to be unclothed and dissolved; but if the competition be between the felicity of the future state, and the felicity of the present state; and their no desire doth proceed from the greater love that they have to this world, than they have to God, and to heaven, and the purity, and sinlessness, and blessedness of the future state; this is a mortal character; and concerning such we can pronounce nothing but that “they are enemies to the cross of Christ,” the design of his dying, as if he died for men only, to procure for them an earthly felicity; as if his dying were only to terminate upon an earthly happy state, than which a greater hostility to the cross of Christ, and against the design of his dying, cannot be. And again,
Direction 6. Take this further direction; to wit, when you have that object before you, in its clear and distinct state, which is to be the final object of your hope, never hope for that abstractly, and separately by itself, so as to disjoin in your hope the end, from the necessary means to that end, salvation, the state of the saved; here is the final object of hope; but then we are told by the apostle, of things that do “accompany salvation.” Heb. vi. 9. Never hope for salvation abstractly, and apart from the things, that do accompany it, and because that is to be considered as the final object of your hope, the things that are intermediate to it, are to be hoped for too; for there can be no connection besides, between the end and the means; but that connection lies in the aptitude such means have to this end, and the certainty of the consecution of this end, upon the use of such means. You are told of several things in scripture that have certain connection with salvation, so that without them it cannot be; with them it cannot but be. As to give you only the scripture terms of the several things, that it doth connect with salvation as inseparable from it, without explaining the things to you: as repentance, it connects with it; “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish;” Luke xviii. 5. ye shall not be saved. “Repent, that your sins may be blotted out.” Acts iii. 19. by it you shall be saved.—Faith; God so loved the world, that “he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John iii. 18. “He that believeth not is condemned already, and the wrath of God abideth on him.” John iii. 3, 5.—Regeneration, without it there is no entering into the 324kingdom of God, there is no seeing of it; but if men be regenerate, they are the children or God; and if they are children, then heirs, “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, that, suffering with him, they may be glorified together.” Rom. viii. 17.—Obedience; Christ will be author of salvation to them that obey him, Heb. v. 9. “And will come in flaming fire to take vengeance on them that know him not, nor obey his gospel.” 2 Thess. i. 8. These are the plainest connections that can be in the world, nothing can be more plain; so sanctification which falls in. with many of the forementioned things: “We give thanks to God for you, that he hath chosen you unto salvation through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth.” 2 Thess. ii. 13. “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” Heb. xii. 14.
This is the direction then, that at present, I would leave with you; never be so vain as to hope for the end apart from these things, God having made a necessary connection between it and them, as means thereunto, with which it shall certainly be attained, and without which, it cannot. There are means indeed, that are foreign and external, (as divines are wont do distinguish them from these,) which have no certain connection with the end, as these have; but for those which have so certain a connection with it, it is to murder your own hope, to hope for the end without regarding the means; to hope I shall be saved, whether I repent or no, believe or no, turn to God or no, be regenerate or no, be sanctified or no, whether I obey, or disobey. This is to hope without, and to hope against it; and it is the greatest foolery in the world, for a man to hope against God’s word, for that which depends wholly on his pleasure, whose word it is. Who can save me if he do not? Who can bring me heaven if he do not? So that to hope in this case, not only without his word, but against it; no greater madness than this is conceivable, or can be, among men.325
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