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“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.

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“Rest on no other work but Christ’s work” by J.C. Ryle

“Today’s sorrow will not wipe off the score of yesterday’s sins. It is not an ocean of tears that would ever cleanse an uneasy conscience and give it peace.

Where then must a man go for pardon? Where is forgiveness to be found? There is a way both sure and plain, and into that way I desire to guide every inquirer’s feet.

That way is simply to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour.

It is to cast your soul, with all its sins, unreservedly on Christ,—to cease completely from any dependence on your own works or doings, either in whole or in part,—and to rest on no other work but Christ’s work, no other righteousness but Christ’s righteousness, no other merit but Christ’s merit, as your ground of hope.

Take this course and you are a pardoned soul. “To Christ,” says Peter, “give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.” (Acts 10:43)

“Through this Man,” says Paul at Antioch, “is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins, and by Him all that believe are justified from all things.” (Acts 13:38)

“In Him,” writes Paul to the Colossians, “we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1:14)

The Lord Jesus Christ, in great love and compassion, has made a full and complete satisfaction for sin, by suffering death in our place upon the cross.

There He offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, and allowed the wrath of God, which we deserved, to fall on His own head. For our sins, as our Substitute, He gave Himself, suffered, and died,—the just for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty,—that He might deliver us from the curse of a broken law, and provide a complete pardon for all who are willing to receive it.

And by so doing, as Isaiah says,—He has borne our sins; as John the Baptist says,—He has taken away sin; as Paul says,—He has purged our sins, and put away sin; and as Daniel says,—He has made an end of sin, and finished trangression. (Isaiah 53:11; John 1:29; Heb. 1:3; Heb. 9:26; Dan. 9:24)

And now the Lord Jesus Christ is sealed and appointed by God the Father to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give remission of sins to all who will have it. The keys of death and hell are put in His hand. The government of the gate of heaven is laid on His shoulder. He Himself is the door, and by Him all that enter in shall be saved. (Acts 5:31; Rev. 1:18; John 10:9.)

Christ, in one word, has purchased a full forgiveness, if we are only willing to receive it. He has done all, paid all, suffered all that was needful to reconcile us to God.

He has provided a garment of righteousness to clothe us. He has opened a fountain of living waters to cleanse us. He has removed every barrier between us and God the Father, taken every obstacle out of the way, and made a road by which the vilest may return.

All things are now ready, and the sinner has only to believe and be saved, to eat and be satisfied, to ask and receive, to wash and be clean.

And faith, simple faith, is the only thing required, in order that you and I may be forgiven.

That we will come by faith to Jesus as sinners with our sins,—trust in Him,—rest on Him,—lean on Him,—confide in Him,—commit our souls to Him,—and forsaking all other hope, cleave only to Him,—this is all and everything that God asks for.

Let a man only do this, and he shall be saved. His iniquities shall be found completely pardoned, and his transgressions entirely taken away.

Every man and woman that so trusts is wholly forgiven, and reckoned perfectly righteous. His sins are clean gone, and his soul is justified in God’s sight, however bad and guilty he may have been.”

–J.C. Ryle, “Forgiveness,” Old Paths: Being Plain Statements of Some of the Weightier Matters of Christianity (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1877/2013), 175-176.

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“Grace, grace, free grace, has done it all” by J.C. Ryle

“If you have a good hope, be thankful, for it, and give God daily praise. Who has made you to differ? Why have you been taught to feel your sins, and nothingness, while others are ignorant and self-righteous?

Why have you been taught to look to Jesus, while others are looking to their own goodness, or resting on some mere form of religion? Why are you longing and striving to be holy, while others are caring for nothing but this world?

Why are these things so?

There is but one answer,—Grace, grace, free grace, has done it all. For that grace praise God. For that grace be thankful.

Go on, then, to your journey’s end, “rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.” (Rom. 5:2) Go on, rejoicing in the thought that though you are a poor sinner Jesus is a most gracious Saviour, and that though you have trials here for a little season, heaven shall soon make amends for all.

Go on, wearing hope as a helmet in all the battles of life,—a hope of pardon, a hope of perseverance, a hope of acquittal in the judgment day, a hope of final glory.

Put on the breast-plate of righteousness: take the shield of faith; have your loins girt about with truth: wield valiantly the sword of the Spirit. But never forget—as ever you would be a happy Christian—never forget to put on the “helmet of hope.” (1 Thess. 5:8)

Go on, in spite of an ill-natured world, and be not moved by its laughter or its persecution, its slanders or its sneers. Comfort your heart with the thought that the time is short, the good things yet to come, the night far spent, the “morning without clouds” at hand. (2 Sam. 23:4) When the wicked man dies his expectation perishes; but your expectation shall not deceive you,—your reward is sure.

Go on, and be not cast down because you are troubled by doubts and fears. You are yet in the body: this world is not your rest. The devil hates you because you have escaped from him, and he will do all he can to rob you of peace.

The very fact that you have fears is an evidence that you feel you have something to lose. The true Christian may ever be discerned by his warfare quite as much as by his peace, and by his fears quite as much as by his hopes.

The ships at anchor at Spithead may swing to and fro with the tide, and pitch heavily in a south-eastern gale; but so long as their anchors hold the ground they ride safely, and have no cause to fear.

The hope of the true Christian is the “anchor of his soul, sure and steadfast.” (Heb. 6:19) His heart may be tossed to and fro sometimes, but he is safe in Christ. The waves may swell, and lift him up and down, but he will not be wrecked.

Go on, and “hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:13) Yet a little time, and faith shall be changed to sight, and hope to certainty: you shall see even as you have been seen, and know even as you have been known.

A few more tossings to and fro on the waves of this troublesome world,—a few more battles and conflicts with our spiritual enemy,—a few more years of tears and partings, of working and suffering, of crosses and cares, of disappointments and vexations,—and then, then we shall be at home.

The harbour lights are already in view: the haven of rest is not far off. There we shall find all that we have hoped for, and find that it was a million times better than our hopes.

There we shall find all the saints,—and no sin, no cares of this world, no money, no sickness, no death, no devil. There, above all, we shall find Jesus, and be ever with the Lord! (1 Thess. 4:17)

Let us hope on. It is worth while to carry the cross and follow Christ. Let the world laugh and mock, if it will; it is worth while to have “a good hope through grace,” and be a thorough decided Christian.

I say again,—Let us hope on.”

–J.C. Ryle, “Our Hope,” Old Paths: Being Plain Statements of Some of the Weightier Matters of Christianity (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1877/2013), 111-113.

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“Our best havings are wantings” by C.S. Lewis

“All joy (as distinct from mere pleasure, still more amusement) emphasizes our pilgrim status: always reminds, beckons, awakes desire.

Our best havings are wantings.”

–C.S. Lewis, Letters of C.S. Lewis, eds. W.H. Lewis and Walter Hooper (New York: Harper, 1966), 565.

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“There are more Simeons in the world than we suppose” by J.C. Ryle

“We have in these verses the history of one whose name is nowhere else mentioned in the New Testament, ‘a just and devout man’ named Simeon. We know nothing of his life before or after the time when Christ was born.

We are only told that he came by the Spirit into the temple, when the child Jesus was brought there by His mother, and that he ‘took him up in his arms and blessed God’ in words which are now well-known all over the world.

We see, in the case of Simeon, how God has a believing people even in the worst of places, and in the darkest times. Religion was at a very low ebb in Israel when Christ was born.

The faith of Abraham was spoiled by the doctrines of Pharisees and Sadducees. The fine gold had become deplorably dim. Yet even then we find in the midst of Jerusalem a man ‘just and devout,’– a man ‘upon whom is the Holy Ghost.’

It is a cheering thought that God never leaves Himself entirely without a witness. Small as His believing church may sometimes be, the gates of hell shall never completely prevail against it.

The true church may be driven into the wilderness, and be a scattered little flock, but it never dies.

There was a Lot in Sodom and an Obadiah in Ahab’s household, a Daniel in Babylon and a Jeremiah in Zedekiah’s court; and in the last days of the Jewish Church, when its iniquity was almost full, there were godly people, like Simeon, even in Jerusalem.

True Christians, in every age, should remember this and take comfort. It is a truth which they are apt to forget, and in consequence to give way to despondency.

‘I only am left,’ said Elijah, ‘and they seek my life to take it away.’ But what said the answer of God to him, ‘Yet have I left me seven thousand in Israel.’ (1 Kings 19:14, 18.)

Let us learn to be more hopeful.

Let us believe that grace can live and flourish, even in the most unfavorable circumstances.

There are more Simeons in the world than we suppose.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1858/2012), 1: 51-52. Ryle is commenting on Luke 2:25-35.

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“He sent us a Savior” by D.A. Carson

“If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, He would have sent an economist.

If He had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, He would have sent us a comedian or an artist.

If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, He would have sent us a politician.

If He had perceived that our greatest need was health, He would have sent us a doctor.

But He perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from Him, our profound rebellion, our death; and He sent us a Savior.”

–D.A. Carson, Praying With Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992/2015), 88-89.

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“Not afraid but full of delight” by Charles Spurgeon

“What is this fear of God? I answer, first, it is a sense of awe of His greatness. Have you never felt this sacred awe stealing insensibly over your spirit, hushing, and calming you, and bowing you down before the Lord?

It will come, sometimes, in the consideration of the great works of nature. Gazing upon the vast expanse of waters,—looking up to the innumerable stars, examining the wing of an insect, and seeing there the matchless skill of God displayed in the minute; or standing in a thunderstorm, watching, as best you can, the flashes of lightning, and listening to the thunder of Jehovah’s voice, have you not often shrunk into yourself, and said, “Great God, how terrible art Thou!”—not afraid, but full of delight, like a child who rejoices to see his father’s wealth, his father’s wisdom, his father’s power,—happy, and at home, but feeling oh, so little!

When we realize this, we are filled with a holy awe as we think of God’s greatness, and the result of that is that we are moved to fall before Him in reverent adoration.

We turn to the Word of God, and there we see further proofs of His greatness in all His merciful arrangements for the salvation of sinners,—and especially in the matchless redemption wrought out by His well-beloved Son, every part of which is full of the divine glory; and as we gaze upon that glory with exceeding joy, we shrink to nothing before the Eternal, and the result again is lowly adoration.

We bow down, and adore and worship the living God, with a joyful, tender fear, which both lays us low, and lifts us very high, for never do we seem to be nearer to heaven’s golden throne than when our spirit gives itself up to worship Him whom it does not see, but in whose realized presence it trembles with sacred delight.

The fear of God also takes another form, that is, the fear of His Fatherhood which leads us to reverence Him. When divine grace has given us the new birth, we recognize that we have entered into a fresh relationship towards God; namely, that we have become His sons and daughters.

Then we realize that we have received “the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15) Now, we cannot truly cry unto God, “Abba, Father,” without at the same time feeling, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” (1 John 3:1)

When we recognize that we are “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ,” (Romans 8:17) children of the Highest, adopted into the family of the Eternal Himself, we feel at once, as the spirit of childhood works within us, that we both love and fear our great Father in heaven, who has loved us with an everlasting love, and has “begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

In this childlike fear, there is not an atom of that fear which signifies being afraid. We, who believe in Jesus, are not afraid of our Father; God forbid that we ever should be.

The nearer we can get to Him, the happier we are. Our highest wish is to be forever with Him, and to be lost in Him; but, still, we pray that we may not grieve Him; we beseech Him to keep us from turning aside from Him; we ask for His tender pity towards our infirmities, and plead with Him to forgive us and to deal graciously with us for His dear Son’s sake.

As loving children, we feel a holy awe and reverence as we realize our relationship to Him who is our Father in heaven,—a dear, loving, tender, pitiful Father, yet our Heavenly Father, who ‘is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about Him.’ (Psalm 89:7)”

–Charles H. Spurgeon, “A Fear to Be Desired,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (vol. 48; London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1902), 48: 496, 497-498.

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