“Christian hope is hope in God” by John Webster

“Christian hope is hope in God, for the God confessed by the Christian fellowship is ‘the God of hope’ (Rom. 15:13).

Christian hope and its activities have to be explicated out of faith’s apprehension of God and God’s ways with the world as its maker, reconciler and consummator.

In formal terms, this is simply an application of the rule that Christian moral theology ought not to exist in independence of Christian doctrine.

In material terms, it is an application of the rule that all Christian teaching, including teaching about the moral life, is an extension of the doctrine of the Trinity, which is the Christian doctrine of God. Christian hope is hope in this God; and the doctrine of the Trinity can therefore rightly be said to furnish ‘the environment of Christian behaviour’. How is this so?

The Christian confession of God as Trinity attempts to indicate that the sovereign majesty and perfection which is God’s life is that of the eternal and perfect relations of Father, Son and Spirit.

God is the relations of these three persons; his being is his eternal fullness as the Father who begets the Son, the Son who is begotten of the Father before all worlds, and the Spirit who proceeds from them. In these relations, fully achieved and lacking nothing, God is one; his unity is the repleteness and blessedness of the fellowship of the three.

This repleteness of God’s life includes within itself, as an integral aspect of its perfection, a turn to that which is not God. In this turn there occurs a movement in which the fellowship of the immanent life of God creates a further object of love.

This turn is free, self-caused, wholly spontaneous, original to the divine being; its necessity is purely the necessity of God’s own self-determination to be in fellowship with that which is other than himself. As such, it is not a turn which completes or extends the divine life; it is a turning out of fullness, not out of lack.

More simply: it is gift, love. This turning or act of love is the work of the triune God as the world’s creator, reconciler and consummator. It takes historical form in the simple yet staggeringly complex work of God’s majesty in the entire scope of the economy, as God brings creaturely reality into being, redeems it and ensures that it will arrive at its perfection.

As Father, God purposes that in its abundance, the divine love should be directed to bringing creation into being, bestowing upon it life, order and direction. Because it is rooted in the Father’s will, this purpose is unshakeable. That is, God’s relation to what he makes is not simply an act of origination, but an act which ensures the creation’s destiny, and therefore one which oversees, directs and protects the creation so that it attains that destiny.

As Son, God intervenes in the history of creation when by its own perversity the creature seeks to struggle free from the Father’s purpose, refusing to be a creature, and in so doing exposing itself to mortal peril. Only as creature can the creature have life; and it is the work of the Son to reconcile and therefore to recreate what has brought destruction upon itself.

Through the person and work of the Son, gathering created being to himself and bearing in himself its alienation from the source of its life and well-being, creation is reintegrated into the Father’s purpose.

Lastly, as Spirit, God acts to bring to completion that which the Father purposes and the Son secures against all opposition, namely the identity and integrity of the creation in fellowship with God. God the Spirit perfects, bringing creaturely being and history to their completion.

What is the significance of this for Christian hope? Hope is that creaturely disposition which corresponds to the fact that all occasions of human history, including its future, are caught up within the economy of the triune God’s mercy.

Because God is to the depths of his eternal being triune, and because he acts in the world as the one he is in himself, then the entire scope of human history and action is embraced by God’s purpose. God is not simply originator (setting the creation in motion), nor simply end (tying up the loose ends of history at its terminus).

Rather, as Father, Son and Spirit, God is infinite—no time or space is apart from or beyond his presence and action—and so steadfast—his purpose has been, is and will be at all times constantly and reliably at work.

And it is as this one that God is the ground of hope, for hope trusts that, because the Father’s purpose has been accomplished in the Son and is now at work in the world in the Spirit’s power, then human history is God’s economy.

Within the space which the triune God creates, hope is neither a fantasy nor a gesture of defiance, but a fitting, truthful attitude and shape for action. In sum: hope rests upon God’s faithfulness, and God’s faithfulness is triune.

One immediate effect of rooting a theology of Christian hope in the doctrine of the Trinity is to prevent an exclusive orientation towards eschatology. Hope is not simply a correlate of the divine futurity or the coming of God; it is, rather, a disposition which is related to the entirety of God’s dealings with his creature, past, present and future.

Within this, hope undoubtedly has an especial regard for the future horizon of human history. But this future quickly becomes isolated when not adequately related to a theological account of God as the world’s creator and as its reconciler in the person and work of Christ.

An isolated eschatology accords little weight to created nature, and often functions with only a pale theology of incarnation and atonement, precisely because the preponderant doctrinal weight is placed in the future of God.

This imbalance within the structure of Christian teaching orients hope, not to the fulfilment of God’s eternal purpose but to an absolute eschatological novum. The corrective to the imbalance is achieved by relating hope not simply to the future but also to the triune eternity of God, that is, to God’s sovereign and purposive presence to and action within all creaturely time.

Christian hope, and therefore hopeful Christian action, rests not simply on what will be, but on what will be as the fulfilment of God’s steadfastness as Father, Son and Spirit, his already-enacted, present and promised constancy to the creature.

Hope is hope in God’s steadfast love (Psalm 33:18, 22; 130:7; 131:3; 147:11). A Christian moral theology of hope begins thus with the perfection of the triune God.”

–John Webster, “Hope,” in Confessing God: Essays in Christian Dogmatics II, The Cornerstones Series (London; New Delhi; New York; Sydney: Bloomsbury T&T Clark: An Imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc; Bloomsbury, 2016), 197–200.

“Assure yourself that your God in Christ will never unson you” by Edward Fisher

“Whensoever your conscience shall tell you, that you have broken any of the Ten Commandments, do not conceive that the Lord looks upon you as an angry Judge, armed with justice against you.

Much less do you fear that He will execute His justice upon you, according to the penalty of that covenant, in unjustifying of you, or depriving you of your heavenly inheritance, and giving you your portion in hell fire.

No, assure yourself that your God in Christ will never unson you, nor unspouse you: no, nor yet, as touching your justification and eternal salvation, will He love you ever a whit the less, though you commit ever so many or great sins.

For this is a certain truth, that as no good either in you, or done by you, did move Him to justify you, and give you eternal life, so no evil in you, or done by you, can move Him to take it away from you, being once given.

And therefore believe it whilst you live, that as the Lord first loved you freely, so will He hereafter ‘heal your backslidings, and still love you freely,’ (Hos. 14:4).

Yea, ‘He will love you unto the end,’ (John 13:1).”

–Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, as quoted in Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Explication of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 7 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1850), 7: 353–354.

“The unstoppable miracle of God’s mercy” by John Webster

“Before it is proposition or oath of allegiance, the confession of the church is a cry of acknowledgement of the unstoppable miracle of God’s mercy.

Confession is the event in which the speech of the church is arrested, grasped and transfigured by the self-giving presence of God.

To confess is to cry out in acknowledgement of the sheer gratuity of what the gospel declares, that in and as the man Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s glory is the glory of His self-giving, His radiant generosity.

Very simply, to confess is to indicate ‘the glory of Christ’ (2 Cor. 8:23).”

–John Webster, “Confession and Confessions,” in Confessing God: Essays in Christian Dogmatics II (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 71.

“Once in Christ, ever in Him” by Thomas Boston

“Once in Christ, ever in Him.

Having taken up His habitation in the heart, He never removes. None can untie this happy knot.

Who will dissolve this union? Will He Himself? No, He will not; we have His word for it; ‘I will not turn away from them,’ (Jer. 32:40).

But perhaps the sinner will do this mischief to himself? No, he shall not; ‘they shall not depart from me,’ saith their God. (Jer. 32:40)

Can devils do it? No, unless they be stronger than Christ and His Father too; ‘Neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand,’ saith our Lord, ‘And none is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand,” (John 10:28, 30).

But what say you of death, which parts husband and wife; yea, separates the soul from the body? Will not death do it? No: the apostle is ‘persuaded that neither death,’ terrible as it is, ‘nor life,’ desirable as it is; ‘nor’ devils, those evil ‘angels, nor’ the devil’s persecuting agents, though they be ‘principalities, nor powers’ on earth; ‘nor’ evil ‘things present,’ already lying on us; ‘nor’ evil ‘things to come’ on us; ‘nor’” the ‘height’ of worldly felicity; ‘nor depth’ of worldly misery; ‘nor any other creature,’ good or evil, ‘shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is Christ Jesus our Lord,’ (Rom. 8:38-39).

As death separated Christ’s soul from His body, but could not separate either His soul or body from His divine nature; so, though the saints should be separated from their nearest relations in the world, and from all their earthly enjoyments; yea, though their souls should be separated from their bodies separated in a thousand pieces, their ‘bones scattered, as one cutteth or cleaveth wood,’ (Psalm 141:7) yet soul and body shall remain united to the Lord Christ.

For even in death, ‘they sleep in Jesus,’ (1 Thess. 4:14); and ‘He keepeth all their bones,’ (Psalm 34:20).

Union with Christ is the grace wherein we stand, firm and stable, as Mount Zion, which cannot be removed.”

–Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Human Nature in Its Fourfold State and a View of the Covenant of Grace (ed. Samuel M‘Millan; vol. 8; Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1850), 8: 180.

“Satan greatly approves of our railing at each other, but God does not” by Charles Spurgeon

“Next, the apostle says, ‘In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.’ (Phil. 2:3) Alas! how far we fall below this standard! How few have attained this grace!

Bunyan beautifully portrays Christiana and Mercy coming up out of the bath of the interpreter’s house. They have had jewels put upon them, and when they are both washed, Mercy saith to Christiana, “How comely and beautiful you look!”

“Nay,” Christiana said, “My sister, I see no beauty in myself, but how lovely you look! I think I never saw such loveliness.”

They were both lovely because they could see other people’s loveliness. Your own spiritual beauty may be very much measured by what you can see in other people.

When you say, “Ah! there are no saints now, it is to be feared that you are not one.” When you complain that love is dead in the Christian church, it must be dead in your heart, or you would not say so. As you think of others, that you are.

Out of your own mouth shall you be condemned. Your corn shall be measured with your own bushel. When we come to admire the good in other people that we have not yet attained ourselves, instead of depreciating other people because they have not something which we have, when we get to that, we shall be evidently approaching nearer to Christ.

If the popular preacher can say, “My beloved brother A has a smaller congregation, and is not a very attractive preacher, yet he visits his flock so carefully, and looks after each individual so well, that I admire him greatly, and must endeavour to imitate him;” and if the man with the small congregation says, “My brother B studies to find out acceptable words, and commend himself to the people of God, and he is very earnest, and is a great soul-winner, I wish I were as earnest; I admire it in him;” why, these interchanges of loving estimate are infinitely more Christlike than for the minister with the large congregation to say, “Brother A has mistaken his calling; he cannot get above a hundred people to hear him: what is the good of his preaching?” and for the lesser light to reply spitefully, “Ah, B’s work is just a flash in the pan—fine words and excitement—there’s nothing in it.”

Satan greatly approves of our railing at each other, but God does not.

Let us learn this morning to esteem others instead of depreciating them; for in proportion as we exhibit a meek and lowly spirit, we shall be working out our own salvation.”

–Charles H. Spurgeon, “Working out What Is Worked in,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (vol. 14; London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1868), 14: 391–392.

“The Gospel is a joyful tiding for the whole groaning creation” by Herman Bavinck

“God so loved the world, the cosmos, that He sent His only Son, the one by whom all things were created. Granted, the word ‘world’ can have unfavorable connotations in the New Testament.

It can signify the organic unity of all created reality as instrument of sin in opposition to the kingdom of Jesus Christ. This ‘world’ lies in wickedness (1 John 5:19), has ‘the devil as its prince’ (John 14:30; 16:11), who is ‘the god of this age’ (2 Cor. 4:4).

This world knows neither God nor His children (John 17:25; 1 John 3:1). In fact, it hates the followers of Jesus as it hated Him (John 15:18,19; 17:14). For this reason ‘the world and its desires’ must be resisted and overcome by faith (1 John 2:15-17; 5:4).

It is undeniable that Jesus and his apostles after Him were drawn to the ‘foolish and the weak’ of the world, to ‘publicans and sinners.’ There is a real fear reflected in their repeated admonitions to be alert to the temptation found in abundance of possessions and in the reminders that this life is one filled with anxiety.

Christianity is the religion of the cross; the mystery of suffering is its center. An aesthetic enjoyment of the world as in the Hellenic tradition is not possible.

This single notion of ‘world’ shows us clearly how wide a gulf exists between the Christian and the classic worldview. And yet, the reverse side is not absent.

It is true that the Cross casts its shadow over all creation but so does the light of the Resurrection.

On the one hand, the kingdom of heaven is a treasure hidden in a field and a pearl of great price for which a man sells everything he has in order to buy it; at the same time it is also a mustard seed that grows into a tree in which the birds of the air build nests and a yeast that a woman takes and hides in three measures of flour until it is all leavened.

While the world is thoroughly corrupted by sin, it is precisely this sinful world that is the object of God’s love.

In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting its sins (2 Cor. 5:19).

Jesus, who came to the world not to condemn it but to save it (John 3:16,17; 12:47), is the light (John 1:12), the life (John 6:33), the Savior of the world (John 4:14).

Jesus is the atoning sacrifice not only for our sins but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).

In Christ all things are reconciled to God (Col. 1:20), and under Him brought together in unity (Eph. 1:10).

The world, created by the Son (John 1:3), is also created for Him as its heir (Col. 1:16, Heb. 1:2).

The kingdoms of this world shall eventually become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ (Rev. 11:15).

A new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells is coming (2 Peter 3:13).

It is impossible to express the thoroughgoing universal scope of the Christian faith in words more powerful and beautiful than these. Christianity knows no boundaries beyond those which God Himself has in His good pleasure established; no boundaries of race or age, class, or status, nationality, or language.

Sin has corrupted much; in fact, everything. The guilt of human sin is immeasurable; the pollution that always accompanies it penetrates every structure of humanity and the world.

Nonetheless sin does not dominate and corrupt without God’s abundant grace in Christ triumphing even more (Rom. 5:15-20). The blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin, it is able to restore everything.

We need not, indeed we must not, despair of anyone or anything.

The Gospel is a joyful tiding, not only for the individual person but also for humanity, for the family, for society, for the state, for art and science, for the entire cosmos, for the whole groaning creation.”

–Herman Bavinck, “The Catholicity of Christianity and the Church,” Calvin Theological Journal 27 (1992): 223-224.

“Our need of revival is indeed very great today” by Iain Murray

“Our need of revival is indeed very great today. It may be that a generation of freshly-anointed preachers is already being prepared. Whether that is so or not, when such men are sent forth by Christ we can be sure of certain things.

They will not be identical in all points with the men of the past, but there will be a fundamental resemblance.

They will be hard students of Scripture.

They will prize a great spiritual heritage.

They will see the danger of ‘unsanctified learning’.

While they will not be afraid of controversy, nor of being called hyper-orthodox, they will fear to spend their days in controversy. They will believe with John Rice that ‘the church is not purified by controversy, but by holy love’.

They will not forget that the wise, who will shine ‘as: the stars forever and ever’, are those who ‘turn many to righteousness’ (Dan. 12.3).

They will covet the wisdom which Scripture attributes to the one ‘that winneth souls’ (Prov. 11.30).

But their cheerfulness will have a higher source than their work. To know God Himself will be their supreme concern and Joy.

They will therefore not be strangers to humility.

And their experience will not be without trials and discouragements, not least because they fall so far short of their aspirations.

If they are spared to live as long as John Leland they will be ready to say with him at last: ‘I have been unwearedly trying to preach Jesus, but have not yet risen to that state of holy zeal and evangelical knowledge, that I have been longing after’.

Whether their days be bright or dark they will learn to say with Nettleton that ‘the milk and honey lie beyond this wilderness world’.”

—Iain H. Murray, Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism, 1750-1858 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1994), 386-387.