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Means of Hope, and Remedies against Despair.
The means to cure despair, and to continue or increase hope, are partly by consideration, partly by exercise.
1. Apply your mind to the cure of all the proper causes of despair: and they are, weakness of spirit or violence of passion. He that greedily covets is impatient of delay, and desperate in contrary accidents; and he that is little of heart is also of little hope, and apt to sorrow and suspicion.200200Μικροψυχοι ρακρολνποι.
2. Despise the things of the world, and be indifferent to all
changes and events of Providence; and for the things of God, the promises are certain
to be performed in kind; and where there is less variety of chance, there is less
possibility of being mocked:201201 Ελπις και σν Τυχμ, ρεγα Χαιρετε την υυυν ενρν.
Ονκ ετι γαρ σφετειροις ιπιτερποραι ερρετε αρφω
Ουνεκεν ιν ρεροπεσσι πυλυπλανεες ραλα εστε.
Οσσα γαρ ατρεκεως ουκ εσσεται, νμμες ιν μριν
φασματα, ως εν νπνω, ερξαλλετε, νια τ εοντα
αιζοιτε, στροφεοιτε, οσονς εμεν νστερον οντας
Ενροιτ υν νυεντας οπερ ξευις εστι νομσαι. Pallad. Brunk. Anthol. t. ii. p.437. but he that creates to himself thousands of little hopes, uncertain in the promise, fallible in the event, and depending upon ten thousand circumstances, (as are all the things of this world,) shall often ail in his expectations, and be used to arguments of distrust in such hopes.
3. So long as your hopes are regular and reasonable, though in temporal affairs, such as are deliverance from enemies, escaping a storm or shipwreck, recovery from a sickness, ability to pay your debts, etc., remember that there are some things ordinary, and some things extraordinary, to prevent despair. In ordinary, remember that the very hoping in God is an endearment of him, and a means to obtain the blessing: ‘I will deliver him, because he hath put his trust in me.’ 2. There are in God all those glorious attributes and excellences which in the nature of things can possibly create or confirm hope. God is, 1. strong; 2. wise; 3. true; 4. loving. There cannot be added another capacity to create a confidence; for upon these premises we cannot fail of receiving what is fit for us. 3. God hath obliged himself by promise that we shall have the good of everything we desire; for even losses and denials shall work for the good of them that fear God. And, if we will trust the truth of God for performance of the general, we may well trust his wisdom to choose for us the particular. But the extraordinaries of God are apt to supply the defect of all natural and human possibilities. 1. God hath, in many instances, given extraordinary virtue to the active causes and instruments — to a jaw-bone, to kill a multitude; to three hundred men, to destroy a great army; to Jonathan and his armour-bearer, to route a whole garrison. 2. He hath given excellent sufferance and vigorousness to the sufferers, arming them with strange courage, heroical fortitude, invincible resolution, and glorious patience: and thus he lays no more upon us than we are able to bear; for when he increases our sufferings, he lessens them by increasing our patience. 3. His providence is extra-regular, and produces strange things beyond common rules; and he that led Israel through a sea, and made a rock pour forth waters, and the heavens to give them bread and flesh, and whole armies to be destroyed with fantastic noises, and the fortune of all France to be recovered and entirely revolved by the arms and conduct of a girl, against the torrent of the English fortune and chivalry, can do what he please, and still retain the same affections to his people, and the same providence over mankind as ever. And it is impossible for that man to despair who remembers that his helper is omnipotent, and can do what he please202202Heb. ii. 18. Let us rest there a while — he can if he please: and he is infinitely loving, willing enough; and he is infinitely wise, choosing better for us than we can do for ourselves. This, in all ages and chances, hath supported the afflicted people of God, and carried them on dry ground through a Red Sea. God invites and cherishes the hopes of men by all the variety of his providence.
4. If your ease be brought to the last extremity, and that you are at the pit’s brink, even the very margin of the grave, yet then despair not; at least put it off a little longer: and remember that whatsoever final accident takes away all hope from you, if you stay a little longer, and, in the meanwhile, bear it sweetly, it will also take away all despair too. For when you enter into the regions of death you rest from all your labours and your fears.
5. Let them who are tempted to despair of their salvation, consider how much Christ suffered to redeem us from sin and its eternal punishment; and he that considers this must needs believe that the desires which God had to save us were not less than infinite, and therefore not easily to be satisfied without it.
6. Let no man despair of God’s mercies to forgive him, unless he be sure that his sins are greater than God’s mercies. If they be not, we have much reason to hope that the stronger ingredient will prevail, so long as we are in the time and state of repentance, and within the possibilities and latitude of the covenant; and as long as any promise can but reflect upon him with an oblique beam of comfort. Possibly the man may err in his judgment of circumstances; and therefore let him fear: but, because it is not certain he is mistaken, let him not despair.
7. Consider that God, who knows all the events of men, and what their final condition shall be, who shall be saved, and who will perish; yet he treateth them as his own, calls them to be his own, offers fair conditions as to his own, gives them blessings, arguments of mercy, and instances of fear, to call them off from death, and to call them home to life; and, in all this, shows no despair of happiness to them; and therefore much less should any man despair for himself, since he never was able to read the scrolls of the eternal predestination.
8. Remember that despair belongs only to passionate fools or villains, such as were Achitophel and Judas, or else to devils and damned persons; and as the hope of salvation is a good disposition towards it, so is despair a certain consignation to eternal ruin. A man may be damned for despairing to be saved. Despair is the proper passion of damnation. “God hath placed truth and felicity in heaven, curiosity and repentance upon earth, but misery and despair are the portions of hell.”203203V. Bede.
9. Gather together into your spirit and its treasure-house, the memory, not only all the promises of God, but also the remembrances of experience and the former senses of the divine favours, that from thence you may argue from times past to the present, and enlarge to the future and to greater blessings. For although the conjectures and expectations of hope are not like the conclusions of faith, yet they are a helmet against the scorching of despair in temporal things, and an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast, against the fluctuations of the spirit in matters of the soul. St. Bernard reckons divers principles of hope, by enumerating the instances of the divine mercy; and we may be them reduce this rule to practice, in the following manner: 1. God hath preserved me from many sins; his mercies are infinite: I hope he will still preserve me from more, and for ever. 2. I have sinned, and God smote me not; his mercies are still over the penitent: I hope he will deliver me from all the evils I have deserved. He hath forgiven me many sins of malice, and therefore surely he will pity my infirmities. 3. God visited my heart and changed it; he loves the work of his own hands, and so my heart is now become; I hope he will love this too. 4. When I repented, he received me graciously; and therefore I hope, if I do my endeavour, he will totally forgive me. 5. He helped my slow and beginning endeavours; and therefore I hope he will lead me to perfection. 6. When he had given me something first, then he gave me more; I hope, therefore, he will keep me from falling, and give me the grace of perseverance. 7. He hath chosen me to be a disciple of Christ’s in situation; he hath elected me to his kingdom of grace; and therefore I hope also to the kingdom of his glory. 8. He died for me when I was his enemy; and therefore I hope he will save me when he hath reconciled me to him and is become my friend. 9. ‘God hath given us his Son: how should not he with him give us all things else?’ All these St. Bernard reduces to these three heads, as the instruments of all our hopes: 1. The charity of God adopting us; 2. The truth of his promises; 3. The power of his performance: which, if any truly weighs, no infirmity or accident can break his hopes into indiscernible fragments, but some good planks will remain after the greatest storm and shipwreck. This was St. Paul’s instrument: ‘Experience begets hope, and hope maketh not ashamed.’
10. Do thou take care only of thy duty, of the means and proper instruments of thy purpose, and leave the end to God — lay that up with him, and he will take care of all that is entrusted to him; and this, being an act of confidence in God, is also a means of security to thee.
11. By special arts of spiritual prudence and arguments secure the confident belief of the resurrection; and thou canst not but hope for everything else which you may reasonably expect or lawfully desire upon the stock of the divine mercies and promises.
12. If a despair seizes you in a particular temporal instance, let it not defile thy spirit with impure mixture, or mingle in spiritual considerations; but rather let it make thee fortify thy soul in matters of religion, that, by being thrown out of your earthly dwelling and confidence, you may retire into the strengths of grace, and hope the more strongly in that by how much you are the more defeated in this, that despair of a fortune or a success may become the necessity of all virtue.
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