"The Importance of Christian Hope"
Through the gracious providence of an All-wise God, we are again assembled in an associated capacity, and, that the occasion may prove one of profit, as well as of enjoyment, we address you this our annual letter. The reports from some of the Churches composing this body, convey the pleasing intelligence of ingatherings of souls to Christ. With mingled emotions have we marked the developments of the past year. No chapter in the annuals of time will present to the future enquirer at History's page such a catalogue of remarkable events. So momentous have been its occurances as to shake the civilized world to its centre. Political convulsions and moral revolutions have threatened destruction to thrones, dynasties, and empires. The ravages of fire, flood, and pestilence have swept over many portions of our world, rioting in the destruction of property and life. In these devastations, God has given the most striking indications of his displeasure against sin. Every attentive observer must perceive that the "King of Kings" is taking hold of the reins of Government, and scourging the nations into obedience to his laws.
Upon us, as a people, heavy scourges have fallen. Their ravages have visited our cities, our villages, our neighborhoods, and our families. The loved and esteemed, the profligate and the abandoned, have alike enriched the trophies of Death. Many have seen the perishable nature of all things earthly, and felt that man's hold upon this world is exceedingly slender.
Amid these revolutions of nations, and fearful visitations of pestilence, what can induce tranquility of mind but a firm reliance upon that God "who is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever?" It is the privilege of the humblest Christian to behold all events, unmoved and undismayed: "His hand fastens on the skies, and bids earth roll, nor feels her idle whirl."
At such a time as this, we think it not inappropriate to present you a few thoughts upon THE IMPORTANCE OF CHRISTIAN HOPE. HOPE is the desire of some good, accompanied with, at least a slight expectation of obtaining it. CHRISTIAN HOPE is the firm expectation of all necessary good, both in time and eternity, founded upon the perfections, offices, and promises of Christ. A slight reflection upon some of the circumstances of life will sufficiently suggest its importance.
There is one period to which, in all after life, every Christian reverts with peculiar interest. Well he remembers the time when conviction for sin revealed the ruined condition of his nature, and his soul, conscious of guilt, trembled in view of impending wrath: when the conception of God's character, admired, and yet feared, the holiness and spirituality of his law, the justice of its claims, all seemed to harmonize in that Savior, who, in this hour of extremity, showed himself as not only able, but willing to deliver. That kind, relieving word, "Forgive," spoken in accents of the tenderest love, enkindled in the soul the earnest of future bliss. The hope born in the gloom of that hour, can never be forgotten, and is, to its possessor, a treasure above all price.
The Christian, though "begotten unto a lively hope," is conscious of in-dwelling sin. He is yet clothed with a body of flesh, which, to a mind longing after purity and life, seems truly one of "sin and death." He desires to be holy in heart, to perform every duty with spiritual feelings and motives, to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ, but often he realizes that "to will is present, but how to perform that which is good he finds not." The promptings of his soul are to hate sin, and to avoid even the appearance of evil; but, despite every effort, sin obtrudes itself into his holiest hours, and contaminates his purest sacrifices. Under such incessant conflicts, the pious heart groans this expressive language, "O, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" On such occasions, the Christian would be entirely destitute of consolation, were it not that he hopes, through Christ, to obtain entire relief at death.
The Christian, as a pilgrim, is passing through a strange land, and is often oppressed with fears and despondings of mind, ere he reaches his wished-for home. The star of Bethlehem lights up the gloom of the way, and guides amid its uncertainties. Still, darkness often overspreads the mind, and prospects for glory seem almost extinguished. The accuser, on such occasions, whispering in his ear that which his heart already fears, "that his religion is delusion," depresses the spirit beyond measure; and the trembling soul, fearing to act presumptuously in receiving consolation, is strangely inclined to sink beneath the waves of despair. The promises of the Gospel are esteemed applicable to others alone, and the desponding expression, "The Lord hath forsaken me, and my God hath forgotten me," seems more consonant with truth. But the bow of hope rests upon these gathering clouds, and an angel of mercy, descending its mild arch, dispels every anxious fear, and the resuscitated spirit exclaims, "Why art thou cast down, O 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."
In this life, the Christian is subject to many afflicting providences. The enjoyments of this world are uncertain, transitory, and all mixed with grief. The brightest dreams of youth, and the ripening expectations of more mature years, are, alas! too often crushed. Hopes, fortunes, and friends are suddenly torn away, and the heart is left to mourn. What can sustain, amid such perishable joy, but the hope of finding all again around the throne of God? 'Tis then "the hope serves as an anchor to the soul, sure and steadfast."
He not only sees his property take wings and flee away and his loved ones sicken and die, but the fact is ever before him that he, too, must soon slumber in the grave. Even if no accident nor sudden and violent disease should hurry him hence, we know, the day hastens, the hour draws nigh, when he must bid farewell to every earthly joy; when every tie however fond, which binds him to earth must be dissolved, and he appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Oh! the dread thought of coming to that hour, destitute of the Christian's hope: — to meet the King of Terrors, and tread the gloom of the grave, alone and unillumined! But to him who is sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust, death is robbed of its sting, and the grave divested of its gloom. In view of their approach, he sings, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff comfort me." Thus he cheerfully goes to his last resting-place, "like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him, and lies down to pleasant dreams." And hope, looking beyond the ruins of the grave, anticipates the victor's shout, "Oh, death, where is thy sting? Oh, grave, where is thy victory?
Seeing, dear brethren, ye have such a hope, "what manner of persons ought ye to be in all conversation and godliness." While carefully guarding against presumption, fall not into despair. Each is alike dangerous to men, and offensive to God. If fear deter from the former, let hope keep you from the latter. The fullness of God is sufficient to supply every want, and he delights to sustain such as magnify His grace by casting themselves upon it. "The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, and in them that hope in his mercy."
"Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself even as Christ is pure." "Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should walk in his steps." Christ is OUR PATTERN, as well as our Savior, and conformity to him should be the greatest business of life. To be happy should not so much concern us as "to be like Christ." The hope of the Christian is not only "to see Christ, but to be like him." Perfect satisfaction cannot take place until we "awake with his likeness," and happiness in this life will only be in proportion to our conformity to Christ. Let us, then, brethren, be faithful in our efforts to grow in every grace, and to attain every virtue. As far as possible, let us avoid even the appearance of evil. Let us cherish the gracious influences of the SPIRIT, and exercise patience under afflictions, "knowing that patience worketh experience, and experience hope." Let us "search the Scriptures," and endeavor to cultivate the spirit of sincere devotion. Though citizens of this world, let us endeavor to "lay up treasures in heaven," and daily live, "having respect unto the recompense of reward." Finally, beloved brethren, "stand fast, and hold unwaveringly the doctrines which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle. 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 establish you in every good word and work.
[From Northbend Baptist Association Minutes, 1849. The grammar, punctuation and spelling are unchanged. — jrd]
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