Northhamptonshire Baptist Association
Circular Letter, 1782
"The Excellency and Utility of the Grace of Hope"
By Andrew Fuller
ON this delightful subject, we feel great pleasure in addressing you. We congratulate you, amidst all your sorrows, on your possessing such a hope; a hope which has foundations the most solid, and objects the most substantial. God has not put this jewel into your hands to be made light of. He would have you to understand it in order to prize it. His bestowing upon you a spiritual illumination is to this very end. He does not open your eyes to present you with mere spectacles of misery, nor call you by his grace as having nothing to bestow upon you: no, blessed be his name, "the eyes of your understandings are enlightened that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints."
To assisting your meditations on this cheering subject, by showing its excellency and pointing out its great utility, we devote this epistle.
We trust that what we have already communicated to you, on various important subjects, has not been received in vain. We would not wish to trifle with you, brethren, and we trust our letters to you have not been trifled with. Having therefore confidence in your readiness to examine and receive what we communicate, 'we are willing to impart unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye are dear unto us!"
HOPE, or an expectation of future good,1 is of so extensive an influence, that whether true or false, well or ill founded, it is one of the principal springs that keep mankind in motion. It is vigorous, bold, and enterprising.
It causes men to encounter dangers, endure hardships, and surmount difficulties innumerable, in order to accomplish the desired end. In religion it is of no less consequence. It is claimed by almost all ranks and parties of men. It makes a considerable part of the religion of those that truly fear God; for though in all true religion there is and must be a love to God and Divine things for their own excellency, yet God, who knows our frame, and draws us with the cords of a man, condescends also to excite us with the promise of gracious reward, and to allure us with the prospect of a crown of glory.
We wish you brethren, seeing God has given you everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, to consider well the GOODNESS OR EXCELLENCY of that Divine gift. On this account it excels every other hope as much as a pearl excels a pebble. A great part of its excellency consists in its being so wellfounded. Though our hope should aspire to the highest heavens, and could grasp in all the bliss of an eternal world, alas! what would it avail us if ill-founded? The hope that is ill-founded is said to make ashamed, and so terminates in disappointment. It is to be feared that many (oh that there may be none of us!) who are now towering high in expectation, will one day be "ashamed and confounded" because they thus had hoped.
The grand FOUNDATION of all good hope is the Lord Jesus Christ, God's revealed Mediator, embraced by faith. On this rock the people of God in all ages have built their hope, whatever other foundations sinners have devised. Of old God laid this in Zion. This was the subject of apostolic ministrations; they held forth none other than him "whom God had set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood."
That the mediation of Christ is the primary ground of all good hope will appear evident, if we do but recollect (and O let us never forget!) the hopeless condition in which sin involved us. By our breach of covenant with God, the very idea of future good for us was totally annihilated. Nothing but eternal tribulation and anguish, as the reward of evil-doers, was now to be expected. The image of God being totally effaced in us, his favour towards us was absolutely forfeited. Hence the least idea of hope from any other ground than the mediation of Christ, is not only declarative of opposition to God's way of salvation, but is altogether a wild chimera. By the state of the fallen angels we may learn what ground is left for hope where no mediator is provided; and what must have been our state had we been left in their condition. These, void of all hope whatever, "are reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day."
We are not unacquainted with the many false grounds on which sinners rest their hopes, but we as well know who has said, "Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." We doubt not, brethren, but you have perceived the vanity of a multitude of those things which buoy up the hopes of a great part of mankind. Yourselves, it may be, were once the subjects of those delusory dreams whereof we trust ye are now ashamed. It yields us great pain to see such numbers of our fellow sinners standing on such slippery places! The mere mercy of God, to the exclusion of Christ's mediation - not being so bad as some others - common honesty and civility between mart and man - descent from pious parents - a place and a name among the godly - suffering much affliction in this life - legal convictions - superior knowledge - superstitious zeal - these are some of the dangerous foundations on which vast numbers of deluded mortals build their eternal ALL! But ye, brethren, have not so learned Christ. Be it your and our resolution, with holy Paul, to "know nothing" in this matter "but Christ and him crucified!"
You will remember, dear brethren, it was necessary that this glorious Mediator should be revealed ere he could become a ground of hope. The amazing design of mercy was first laid in the eternal council; hence the blood of Christ is termed the blood of the covenant, through which prisoners in the pit become prisoners of hope: but whatever design of mercy might exist in the mind of God, that could not become a ground of hope till revealed by the word of God. Hence the promise of the woman's Seed afforded the first and only dawn of hope to a lost world. Hence also the word of God is frequently represented in Scripture as that whereon our hope resteth.
Equally necessary is it that the mediation of Christ should be embraced by faith. We trust you need not he told, that though this mediation be the sole meritorious ground of our hope, yet a special work of the Spirit of God must take place in us, before we can reasonably put in our claim for eternal bliss. The work of Christ gives to the elect sinner a title to its possession; the work of the Spirit gives a meetness for its enjoyment. If we experience the latter, we may lay claim to a personal interest in the former. These God has joined together, and let no man dare to put them asunder. Christ must he in us, ere he can be to us the hope of glory. The hope that maketh not ashamed is wrought by experience. The graces of the Spirit, however, become a ground of hope, not through any inherent merit, but in virtue of the promise of God; or rather they are the evidence of our interest in the promise. In numerous passages of holy writ, God has promised eternal life to all such as bear certain characters; namely, to those that are of a broken and contrite spirit, that mourn for sin, believe in Christ, love him in sincerity, deny themselves, take up their cross, follow him, &c. Hence all who through grace are the subjects of these spiritual dispositions enjoy a right, founded on such promises, to hope for eternal bliss; and this is another reason why the word of God is frequently represented in Scripture as that whereon our hope resteth.
It is to be feared that many split upon this rock. We cautioned you against those who professedly build on other foundations than Jesus Christ; but these are not the only self-deceivers. There is a more refined sort, as to their professed principles, who build their hope on something more specious in appearance, but not a whit better in reality. These, brethren, you have more reason to be guarded against, since they are more frequent in your assemblies, and some of them less discernible, though not less dangerous, than the former. These will frequently abound with supercilious treatment towards those who profess to build upon their own works - will abundantly exclaim against legal books and legal preaching, which, by the way, is the name they give not only to those performances wherein men are taught to expect eternal life as the fruit of their own doings, but as well to all those wherein practical godliness is pressed home. These much value themselves for their supposed orthodoxy or soundness in the doctrines of grace; nay, so valiant are they, many of them, for the TRUTH, that they will contend for it even at the tavern or upon the ale-bench! but they seem to have forgotten that part of sound doctrine, that "faith without works is dead, being alone."2 These talk loudly of building their hopes on Christ alone, but forget that he must be, as one says, a Christ believed in, loved, and obeyed, and not merely a Christ talked of. These are frequently heard
boasting how strong their hopes are of their being delivered from slavish fear, of their certainty of going to heaven, die when they may, with many such presumptuous things; but they forget surely what the Judge of all the earth has said, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom, of heaven: but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven." These, whatever their professions may be, build not upon the Rock of ages, but upon a concealed part of self. There is no such great difference between them and professed legalists, against whom they so bitterly inveigh: those think to gait, heaven by doing, and these by knowing, which they think to be believing. Their hope is but the hope of the hypocrite, which will in the end prove no better than the spider's web. Nor do they draw their evidences for glory from such things as the Scriptures speak of as characterizing the godly, but from their supposed orthodoxy or soundness in religious principles, with perhaps some texts of Scripture which may have occurred to their minds with a certain impulse, tending mightily to lift them up with joy, but not to fill them with holy mourning, or self-loathing, or with a desire and endeavour to walk humbly with their God. Real religion has no worse enemies than these. By approaching near unto it, and being accounted its votaries, they are capable of doing it much more injury than its professed foes. While, Joab-like, they embrace it with a dissimulating kiss, by their works they stab it as under its fifth rib!
We do not mean to suggest but that the Holy Scriptures are often of great consolation to the godly; nor yet to deny that some passages of it may be more consolatory to the godly than others, and the same passages at one time which are not at another: these are things which we freely acknowledge and happily experience. For the truth or duty contained in any passage of Scripture to be, by the Spirit of God, opened to the mind, and impressed upon the heart, and afford strong consolation to the person, is a part of experience which we can set seal to, as both reasonable and desirable. It is through patience and comfort of the Scriptures that we have hope. But when impressions have no tendency to humble, sanctify, and lead the soul to God, we affirm, and are ready to give proof, that they are no better than "lying vanities," though they lie at the bottom of some mighty fabrics. Our having certain passages of Scripture impressed upon our minds is in itself no evidence for glory at all, either to ourselves or others; no, not though those passages should be promises of heaven itself: but if by this we are humbled and sanctified - if a spirit of holy mourning, self-loathing, watchfulness, love to Christ and holiness, as well as joy, be hereby wrought in us, that is an evidence for glory.
Many persons are the subjects of Scripture impressions, and, to the great scandal of religion, are hence supposed to have God's good work begun in them, when it appears evident by their spirit and conduct that they are utter strangers to real Christianity. Balaam could have produced plenty of such evidence as this. All those things of his speaking are recorded as a part, and an excellent part, of Holy Scripture, and were suggested to him even by God himself. "The Lord," we are told, "put a word in Balaam's mouth." But as none of these things had any tendency to sanctify his heart, they left him but where they found him! Besides, we have no reason to think but that Satan can and does suggest many things in the words of Scripture. We know he did thus to Christ himself; and if to him, why not to us? He has ends to answer in so doing; namely, to deceive poor souls with such airy dreams, to draw them away from resting their hopes on Scriptural grounds, and to substitute these illusory foundations in their room. - On the other hand, whatever be the means, whether hearing the word preached, reading, conversation, prayer, or meditation; and whether, in so meditating,
any part of the word be suddenly brought to our mind, and impressed upon our heart, or whether it be more gradually - whether we have never thought of the passage before, or whether we have read it a thousand times over - it matters not.3 If it tend to produce a spirit of pure love to Christ, lowliness, and holiness, that affords us a ground for hope, and a reason for thankfulness. God has plentifully promised salvation to all who are the subjects of these spiritual dispositions.
Should an enemy to your holy religion, after all, require of you a reason for the hope that is in you - should he demand what grounds you have to conclude that the things you hope for have a real existence - we trust you would not be at a loss for a reply. There is not one of all those solid arguments which prove the Divinity of the sacred oracles, (which, for brevity's sake, we forbear to enumerate,) but would furnish you with sufficient reason to give an answer substantial in its nature, though in its manner "with meekness and fear."
The glorious OBJECTS with which your hope is conversant next demand your attention, brethren; as they much, very much, contribute to its excellency and your felicity. - You may be assured they are something good. Hope of every kind has to do with nothing but what in the view of the mind appears such; and this hope has to do with nothing but what is really such. That which we hope for is not merely an apparent, but a real good; and not only a good, but a substantial good; and not only a substantial, but a suitable, a great, yea, an everlasting good!
The hope of worldlings terminates on trifles; on things which, when enjoyed, do but cloy, and cannot satisfy. - Let a man in pursuit of happiness knock at the door of every created good, every created good must answer, "It is not in me!" Riches make themselves wings and fly away; honour is empty as the wind; mirth, what is it but madness? Crowns of earthly glory commonly prove crowns of thorns to them that wear them; all are lying vanities, promising what they cannot perform. O brethren, let the resolve of the church made wise by affliction be our resolve: "The Lord is my portion, saith my soul, therefore will I hope in him."
Here we find what the wisest of men well termed substance. - Only a taste thereof affords substantial bliss. Oh to enjoy God! To enjoy God in Christ! To enjoy him with the society of the blessed! To enjoy him with soul and body, the latter raised and reunited to the former! To enjoy him to all eternity! To enjoy him, and be changed into the same image! These, brethren, these are the things on which our hope centres; nor is it a matter of small consolation that God himself has pledged his faithfulness for their bestowment on all his faithful followers. However desirable these things might be, we should have little reason to rejoice therein, if he on whose word it rested were either false or fickle; but, blessed be his name, we live "in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began!"
Nor let it seem the less glorious that it is a future good. - In the view of infinite wisdom, "it is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord." It seems good to him to place the blessings he means to bestow upon us at a distance; so at a distance that they must be hoped in, and waited for, ere they are enjoyed. Doubtless, God could have bestowed all his blessings on us as quickly as he did paradise on the converted thief; but he has not seen fit in common so to do. Certainly by his suspending for a time our enjoyment of promised favours, and at length bestowing them, he glorifies his faithfulness in the end, as well as that in the
mean time he exercises our faithfulness, patience, and resignation to his will. But this is not all; they are the more welcome when they do come. If the object hoped for prove less in value than we expected, then indeed its having been suspended only sinks it the more in our esteem; but if it surpass all expectation, if it exceed desire itself when it makes its appearance, then its having been so long in coming only makes it the more welcome when come. "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick" for a time; "but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life!" Let us not think much at waiting a little while; no, not though during that time exposed to great tribulations; since our dwelling before the throne will by this be rendered the more blissful, and our weight of glory by this increased. With what sacred pleasure did the patriarch Jacob resign his life, having waited for God's salvation! With what unspeakable joy did good old Simeon embrace the long-looked-for blessing! With what raptures of bliss will the Lord again be welcomed on an approaching period, when all who love his appearing will unite, saying, "Lo, this is our God, we have waited for him!"
Nay, it seems to be a glory in some sense peculiar to religion to reserve the best till the last. - That you may enjoy strong consolation, brethren, in your passage through life, God has placed his favours in a glorious ascending gradation. The inviting language of every one of them is, Press forward. The pleasures of the world and sin, if they speak truth, can afford no such encouragement to their admirers: no, Ezekiel's roll is descriptive of their utmost prospects; that roll which had written within and without "lamentations, mourning, and woe." But religion presents a train of rising glories: he that enters it aright will find it like the waters of the sanctuary; first to his ancles, then to his knees, then to his loins, and at last a river to swim in! - The different stages of the church maintain the same idea; the Mosaic dispensation contained greater discoveries than the patriarchal; the gospel contains greater than the Mosaic; latter-day glory will outshine this; and ultimate bliss will exceed them all. "Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as all army with banners?"
Give us your attention, brethren, while we next attempt to point out the UTILITY of this heavenly grace throughout the Christian life. - Truly this is beyond expression. If hope in general is of so much use among men as to stimulate them in all their labours, support them in their sorrows, and extricate them from a thousand labyrinths in life - if by it they brave dangers, encounter hardships, and endure difficulties - if, in short, it be that by which, as a means, even God himself as it were bears up the pillars of the world - then what must be the use of that hope which, as we have already seen, so much surpasses this in excellence! As far as the objects of Christian hope exceed in value, and its grounds in solidity, those of natural hope, so far does the use of one exceed that of the other. Its special use will, however, be best ascertained by taking a view of some of those exercises, cases, and circumstances wherein you are concerned in your passage through life. - Particularly,
You have known its value from the time when you were first converted unto God, when in that time of need it presented before you an all-sufficient refuge. - You remember, dear brethren, it may be some of you particularly, "the wormwood and the gall" in that great work, which is commonly begun with a painful conviction of sin. You remember when a sense of the nature and demerit of sin, of your sin, was such that your souls had almost dwelt in silence! Ah, you remember when the glorious character of God appeared, though excellent, yet terrible, approaching judgment unavoidable, and the Judge at the door! And have you forgotten the "door of hope"
which then was opened to you? Have you forgotten the sound of the great trumpet which invited you to come when you were ready to perish? No, surely. While many, like Cain and Judas, despair of mercy, and so "die in the pit," you have reason to bless God for having enabled you to "turn to the strong hold as prisoners of hope!"
Moreover, as servants of God, you have a great work to do. - Though the meritorious part of your salvation has been long since finished, yet there is a salvation for you still to work out. By prayer, by patience, by watchfulness, and holy strife, you have to overcome the world, mortify sin, and run the race set before you. Hope is of excellent use in this great work. It is well denominated a "lively hope." Its tendency is not to lull the soul asleep, but to rouse it to action. We trust, dear brethren, that the hope of which you are partakers will more and more animate your breasts with generous purposes, and prompt your souls to noble pursuits. For this you have the greatest encouragements surely that a God can give! God will employ none in his service without making it their inestimable privilege. They that plough for him shall plough in hope. Mansions of bliss stand ready to receive you, and crowns of unfailing glory to reward you; therefore, beloved brethren, "be ye stedfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord."
Again, You are attended with indwelling sin: a "body of sin," which, in the account of every one that loves and longs for purity, is a body of death; yea, worse than death itself! - You wish to think spiritually, pray fervently, hear profitably, and, in a word, grow in grace; but this proves a dead weight to all: "the good that ye would, that ye do not!" - You wish to hate and avoid evil, and all its detestable appearances; but you find it in ten thousand forms haunting, surprising, and drawing you aside, so that too often "the evil that ye would not, that ye do!" We doubt not, dear brethren, but that in secret you frequently groan with the apostle, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Now we ask what call afford relief in this case, but a good hope through grace of being freed at the hour of death? This proves a helmet in your spiritual warfare. This will inspire you with courage in every conflict: nothing invigorates the soldier like the hope of conquering at last. With this you will tread down strength, and, in prospect of approaching victory, sing with the apostle, "I thank God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Again, You are subject to many fears and despondings of mind ere you reach your desired haven. Too often, through an unwatchful, unholy conduct, the Spirit of God is grieved. His presence once withdrawn, darkness will overspread the mind, and evidences for glory seem blotted out. Satan is often permitted at such seasons to stand as at your right hand, accusing you of your filthy garments; suggesting that such a one cannot be "a brand plucked out of the burning." Under these exercises the mind is apt to be depressed beyond measure; the soul, afraid of acting presumptuously, in laying hold of consolation, is ready, strangely ready, to sink beneath the waves of dark despair. If any offer consolation, like Rachel on the loss of her children, he "refuseth to be comforted." The spirit, at some such seasons, is so dejected, it is as if all must he given up. The painful language of the heart is, "The Lord hath forsaken me, and" he whom I once thought "my God hath forgotten me!" - "My hope is dried up, and I am cut off for my part!" Ah, farewell hope! farewell heaven! farewell Christ. - No, - no, - nor Christ, nor heaven, nor hope will suffer this! Let deep call to deep, let waves, let billows overflow, deliverance shall arise, hope will not fail, but will afford relief. It will prove "an anchor to your soul, sure and stedfast."
Yes, it will cheer your heart, and enable you to sing, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God!" Again,
You are subject to various trying providences in your passage through life. - Enjoyments in this life are very precarious. While we are feathering our nests, and promising ourselves that we shall die therein unmolested, how soon are we disappointed! yea, how many have been nearly stripped of their earthly all! These, being deprived of almost every comfort of this life, have then tasted the sweetness of hope in another. These look to their Maker, and their eyes have respect to the HOLY ONE of Israel for the reparation of their losses. Thus sang the church in affliction, stripped, and bound in Babel's yoke, "The Lord is my portion, saith my soul, therefore will I hope in him."
Some of you are poor in this world, and are subject to numerous hardships. - You are often entangled in mazes of difficulty; you have a thousand fears that you shall never get honourably through life. Especially at times, God seems to have set you in "dark places;" your hopes confounded, your fears come upon you, and your prospects at an end! Yes, say you, "Surely against me is he turned; He turneth his hand against me all the day. He hath builded against me, and compassed me with gall and travail. He hath enclosed my ways with hewn stone. He hath hedged me about that I cannot get out; he hath made my chain heavy!" Poor people, we feel for you! wherewith shall we comfort you? Shall we recommend and exercise benevolence towards you in our respective churches? Shall we exhort you "to trust in the Lord, and do good;" and assure you, in God's name, that "so shall ye dwell in the land, and verily ye shall be fed?" Or shall we hold up before you a kingdom to which ye are heirs; a period when "every tear shall be wiped away?" O brethren, the hope of the gospel furnishes you with these strong consolations! Again,
You are members of Christian society; and though by your letters it appears you enjoy peace in general, yet you are not unacquainted with many things of a grieving tendency. In this state of imperfection offences will come. Unhappy feuds will sometimes arise, and grievous scandals will take place. When church members become self-sufficient, and cease to be afraid of entering into temptation - when carnal ease is substituted in the room of gospel peace - when love grows cold, and complaisance takes its place - when we are so watchful over one another as to forget ourselves - when godly jealousy is exchanged for an uncharitable temper, "more cruel than the grave" - when, instead of "submitting to one another in the fear of God," each one becomes headstrong and resolved to have his own way - when superior gifts are envied, and inferior ones despised - when zeal for the truth degenerates into vain jangling - when we are very apt to take an offence, but not to forgive one - when talebearers are encouraged, and a spirit of animosity cherished - then, brethren, then expect "confusion, and every evil work." We are happy that we can say (and blessed be God for it) that such a spirit is far from generally prevailing among you; yet, so far as it does prevail, (which the all-seeing God knows is too far,) it dishonours the great Head of the church, and wounds every upright member! However, this should be far from discouraging religious society itself; not to mention that these are things that must always be expected, more or less, in this state of trial, and that they always existed even in the purest ages; we can affirm, and ye are our witnesses, that it has pleasures which abundantly outweigh all these unhappinesses. Nor is this all: hope holds up a period, even within the limits of time, a heaven compared with the present state of things, when "holiness
to the Lord shall be written as upon the bells of the horses, and Zion shall become a quiet habitation!" But this, say you, is a period that we have but little hope of living to see. Perhaps so still you live in prospect of a better. Blessed society, where purity and amity for ever reign! Yes, brethren, immediately on entering members of the church triumphant, you will "enter into peace," and each one of you "walk" for ever "in his uprightness!" Moreover,
You are members of civil society. - You wish well to your country, and must have been the subjects of grief to see what you have of late years seen - its glory eclipsed by unhappy wars and dissensions; to see it conspired against by surrounding nations and divided by domestic feuds, forsaken by its friends and derided by its enemies. It may be, at times, fear has been ready to seize you, and tempted you to ask, What will be the end of these things? The sounds of "Nineveh is fallen," "Babylon is fallen," yea, of "Judah is fallen," has been long since heard in the world; and what, say you, are we better than they? Under these exercises, brethren, we trust you have found, and will yet find, hope of excellent use to you. Great have been the deliverances your God has wrought in former ages, which afford a ground of hope to us. He can defend our coasts, and still preserve our country; yes, he can, and blessed be his name for any encouragement afforded us. Let us then hope and pray: "It may be the Lord God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of his people." Or should he refuse that, should a consumption be decreed to overflow, in righteousness, still he can preserve his faithful followers as he did Baruch, and those who "sighed and cried" in the day of Jerusalem's ruin. Nay, suppose him to refuse that; suppose that not only your country must sink, but you must sink with it, and perish in the general wreck! Still all is not lost. Did your portion lie in this world, then, indeed, like the owner of a vessel whose all is on board, you might dread its sinking; but seeing your inheritance is far beyond the reach of these vicissitudes, there is reason for you to mingle joy with trembling. Yes, brethren, we trust there is reason for you to unite with holy David, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble - therefore will we not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea!"
Once more, You and we all, by some means, must shortly die. - Be it so that no untimely end befall us, the hour cometh when we must hid farewell to every creature comfort; when every created union must be dissolved, and we appear before the judgment-seat of Christ! Oh, then to be without hope! better had we never been born! Let the reluctance and horror of those who are driven away in their wickedness teach us the value of a well-grounded hope in that awful hour. Verily, words cannot describe it, nor thoughts conceive it! Here is a rock when all beside sinks under us! With this, brethren, like the priests that bore the ark of God, your feet will stand firm amidst all the swellings of Jordan! With this you can behold the ghastly spectre, yea, the horrors of the grave itself, with a cheerful countenance, and sing with holy Job, "Although after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself; mine eyes shall behold, and not another, though my reins be consumed within me!"
Upon the whole, permit us to advise and exhort you, dear brethren, to a few things which become persons who have expectations like yours. - While you guard against presumption, beware of despair. The latter, as well as the former, is dangerous to men, and offensive to God. Despair is the death of action. To despair of mercy, and so never apply for it, is to act like the wicked and slothful servant, than which nothing tends more to cast reproach on the character of God. Even a man of honour cannot bear to be distrusted.
While fear keeps you from presumption, let hope preserve you from despair. As condemned criminals in yourselves considered, cast yourselves on him for mercy; as servants, serve him cheerfully and rely on his bounty; and as suffering the loss of all things for him, trust him, like Moses, to make up your losses. Remember, "the Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy."
Observe, also, he that has this hope must purify himself as Christ is pure. - He must take him for his example, and aim at no less than a complete conformity to his temper and spirit. That which true hope centres in is not only to see him as he is, but to he "like him." Be constant, then, dear brethren, in holy exercises. We trust your hope is not of that kind which, in proportion as it increases, slackens the hand of diligence. Neglect neither public nor private duties; it is at the peril of your souls' welfare if you do! Shame may keep you to the one, but rather let the love of Christ constrain you to both. Think nothing too great to perform, too much to lose, or too hard to endure, that you may obtain so blessed a hope. O brethren, be it our daily concern and earnest endeavour to grow in every grace, to excel in every virtue. Remember, he whose eyes are flames of fire surveys our heart and life: how transporting the thought, could we conceive him addressing each of us as he did the Thyatiran church, "I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first!"
Finally, Use all means to cultivate this heavenly grace. - Remember sin is its worst enemy; beware of that. The Holy Spirit is its best friend; see that you grieve not him. Tribulations themselves, though they may seem to destroy it, in the end cherish it. They "work patience, and patience experience, and experience hope;" therefore be reconciled to them. Read the Holy Scriptures; pray in secret as well as openly; though sojourners on earth, let your conversation be in heaven; learn to set light by this world; court not its smiles, nor fear its frowns; live in daily expectation of dying, and die daily in humble expectation of living for evermore; realize and anticipate those enjoyments and employments to which ye are hastening: in proportion to this, your desires will be strong and your hopes lively. Remember, hope is one of those graces which must do its all within the limits of time; "be sober," therefore, "and hope to the end;" aim, like Enoch, to "walk with God" till God shall take you; "let your loins be girt, and your lights burning, and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord. Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when he cometh shall find so doing! Verily, I say unto you," said this blessed Lord of yours, (O hearken, and be astonished,) "Verily, I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them!"
Dearly beloved brethren, farewell! "May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, who hath loved us, and given us everlasting consolation, and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work!"
1 Hope, as its objects are future, is distinguished from enjoyment. Herein the portion of the saints is unlike that of the worldling, and even that of saints in glory. Also from love, the objects of which are past and present as well as future, whereas hope is confined to the last. As they are good it is opposed to fear, which is the dread of evil. As they are both future and good, and merely so, it is distinct from faith We may be said to believe things past, as that the worlds were made; and things evil, as the wrath to cone; but cannot be said to hope in either. As it is an expectation, it is distinguished from desire. We may be said to desire what it is not possible we should ever enjoy; but we cannot hope unless there appear at least a possibility, and, generally speaking, scale probability, of our possessing the object hoped for; and, in proportion as this probability appears to the mind great or small, hope or expectation is strong or weak.
2 Besides, it would be no great difficulty to prove that, these people, with all their boasted soundness, are unbelievers in the very essentials of the gospel. That is an essential of the gospel, without which it would not be the gospel. Now what constitutes it gospel is its being good news; but whatever faith such people may have in it as a piece of news, they have none in the goodness of it, which is a most essential thing in it, and without which it would not be the gospel.
3 See Help to Zion's Travellers, a piece published at the request of the Association by our brother Hall, pp. 139-141.
[From Joseph Belcher, editor, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, Volume III, 1845, reprint, 1988; pp. 308-317. Document provided by David Oldfield, Post Falls, Idaho. Formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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