An Immutable God and a Strong Consolation (Part 2)
But as what he said to them may also suit us, I will now endeavour to show you what this hope is, that each may see for himself how far he has laid hold of it.
Now a little difficulty meets us here at the very outset; for it is not at first sight very clear whether he means the object of hope, or the grace of hope. It would seem, however, that his words comprehend both these significations, but that the primary meaning is the object of hope, and the secondary meaning the grace of hope, the two being so closely connected that what he says first of the one he transfers to the other-the former being true in doctrine, the latter true in experience. Let me explain this, and, first, as to the object of hope.
1. Every grace of the Spirit must have an object, that is, something to which it may look and with which it may deal. Christ Himself in His Person and work is the object of every grace, but more especially of faith, hope and love. He is therefore called "the hope of Israel"; Jer 17:13 and "our hope." 1Ti 1:1 But as faith and love deal more specially with the Person of Christ, hope deals more particularly with the word of Christ. "My soul fainteth for thy salvation; but I hope in Thy word." "Remember Thy word unto Thy servant, upon which Thou hast caused me to hope." The hope, then, here spoken of is the word of promise; for this is that unto which the soul flees, and on which it hangs.
But this hope, in order to be firm, must have a foundation; and this is nothing less than the faithfulness of God in the fulfilment of His promises. "Sarah judged Him faithful that had promised." Heb 11:11 This sustained her hope; and when she held in her arms the new-born Isaac, her hope made her not ashamed. When then the apostle would encourage us to hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, he adds, "For He is faithful that promised." Heb 10:23
Now where are these promises but in the gospel of Jesus Christ? All of them are made sure in Him; for "all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us." 2Co 1:20 The word of promise then in Christ is "the hope set before us;" for when we flee for refuge from the wrath to come, we flee to the promises as opening their arms to receive us. They are thus like the elders of the city of refuge, who take us within its walls all trembling at the avenger of blood, loaded with guilt, and soiled with dust, and give us safe harbourage, so that he cannot slay us.
2. But having shown you that the hope is as an object, I shall now show you what hope lays hold of as a grace.
The main thing embraced by hope is eternal life, according to those words of the apostle: "In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began." Tit 1:2 But as Christ is "the life," and as He alone gives eternal life, He, as held forth in the word of promise, is the chief object of hope, and, therefore, when experimentally made known to the soul, is said to be formed in us "the hope of glory." As long, therefore, as guilt, doubt and fear press upon the conscience, our hope must be very faint, if it exist at all. But when we flee for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us in the gospel, which is the promise of eternal life in Christ, there is a springing up of spiritual and therefore eternal life in the heart. The Lord says, "I give unto them" (that is, "My sheep") "eternal life"; Joh 10:28 not "I will give them in the life to come;" but I will give it unto them now. We therefore read, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life"- has it now, as a present, felt and enjoyed possession. This life is given manifestly when Christ reveals Himself to the soul; for eternal life is then received out of His fullness as an enjoyed possession.
All, then, who have truly fled for refuge, to lay hold of the hope set before them, embrace in so doing eternal life. They live, as being manifestly in Christ, for He is "our life;" and as they embrace it in Him they feel its sweet movements in their breast, in the joy it communicates, in the peace it imparts, in the prospects it opens, in the doubts it removes, in the fears it disperses.
Thus, in real religion, there is something, if I may so speak, tangible-something to be laid hold of; and this distinguishes a good hope through grace from every other hope which is delusive, enthusiastic, or visionary. Depend upon it, there is a reality in vital godliness-a possession for eternity, which, therefore, kills and deadens the living child of God to a perishing world, and the fading things of time and sense. Whenever we get a view of Christ, there is a view of eternal life in Him; for He is the eternal Son of God, and when He makes Himself known to the soul as such, He shows us that all our life is in Him. The work that He accomplished is for eternity; He lives Himself for ever and ever; and those whom He has redeemed by His blood, justified by His righteousness and sanctified by His grace, will live for ever and ever in His glorious presence. It is the eternity of His love which stamps it with its main value and blessedness; for this life being eternal, secures not only perpetuity, but immutability-prevents it from any change in time as well as from any change in eternity, and secures it firm and stable to all the heirs of promise. As then they lay hold of eternal life in laying hold of Him who is the life, and as the sweet movements of hope spring up in their breast, it opens before their eyes a vista of immortal joy.
II.-But to pass on to our next point, "strong consolation" which God has provided for these heirs of promise, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before them.
As God does nothing in vain, so He provides nothing in vain. These heirs of promise fully need all the consolation, which God can give, and strong consolation too. The fleeing for refuge is but the first act of their spiritual life. They are not yet safe at home or landed in their eternal rest. Under the violence of their first storm, they have fled to the harbour of refuge. This is however but the beginning, not the end of the voyage. The harbour was provided to give them a temporary shelter; but they have again to put out to sea, to encounter fresh storms, and be exposed to fresh perils. He that fled to the hill fort from the Moabites and Ammonites had to come down again to the plain there to plant and sow, and there to expect fresh attacks from the same robber bands. The manslayer who fled to the city of refuge was again exposed to the fatal stroke of the avenger of blood, if he ever left the city to which he had fled.
Thus, to have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us does not insure to us security against future foes or fears; indeed only prepares us the better to meet them. This is why the heirs of promise need strong consolation. Their afflictions are great, their trials heavy, their temptations numerous, their foes strong, and their fears often stronger than their foes. They have also, for the most part many painful vicissitudes and changes: reverses in providence, bereavements in family, afflictions in circumstances, trials of body, trials in the church and trials in the world. God often hides His face from them; Satan harasses them with his fiery darts; fears of death often bring them into bondage, besides all the guilt, which they bring upon their own consciences through their backslidings, and all the chastening strokes, which they procure for their own backs through their folly.
Thus they need consolation, and strong consolation too, that there may be balm for their wounds, cordials to cheer their fainting spirits, wine to strengthen their heart and oil to make them of a cheerful countenance. God not only knows best what we are, but knows best also what we want, for His wisdom and His goodness are alike infinite. He has, therefore, beforehand provided strong consolation for all who need it, for weak consolation would not do for strong trials, feeble deliverances for powerful temptations, and little drops and sips for sharp exercises. It may do for those who have not to wade through perplexing circumstances, or who in grace have no powerful discoveries of the holiness of God, no clear apprehension of His dread Majesty, no strong sense of the evil of sin, and no deep acquaintance with the strength of human corruption and the weakness of our nature to withstand temptation. But where a man is let into the mysterious secrets of a body of sin and death, the strength of internal corruptions, the overwhelming power of lust, pride and covetousness, when he is not upheld by the special grace of God; the snares of Satan spread for the unwary feet; and his assaults as the prince of darkness, as well as his temptations as an angel of light; when, I say, a man is led into these internal mysteries whereby he learns the depth of the fall, he will find his need not only of consolation, from the mouth of God, but strong consolation too.
When, too, he comes, as we all must come, to the closing scene, and has to look back, it may be, upon many things in his past life which may sadly grieve his spirit, if not painfully wound his conscience in the bitter recollection, and if in that trying hour the Lord should suspend the light of His countenance and withdraw His gracious presence - though we hope it may not be so with us, and that He who has borne us up through every trial will bear us up through our last, and He who has never forsaken us will not forsake us then - yet should these things come upon him or come upon us, we shall surely need strong consolation to face the gaunt king of terrors and grapple with our last enemy. Die we must; but who can say when, and who can say how? Every year snatches from us one or another of our dearest friends. As death has come to them, so surely will it come to us; and though we know not how any of us shall die, yet I am sure of this, that if our senses are preserved unto us and we look with open eyes into eternity, we shall then need all the support and consolation which God can give.
Now God has provided, already provided strong consolation for these heirs of promise, for all who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before them. I shall now, therefore, endeavour to show you what is the foundation of this strong consolation.
III.-It rests, then, upon two immutable pillars, as the apostle beautifully speaks. "Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath: that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us." Heb 6:17,18
You will observe that it is the immutability, that is, the unchanging character of His counsel, viz., His eternal purpose, which God was willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise. The counsel or purpose of God is immutable in itself; but God wished to show its immutability to the heirs of promise, that out of it might flow strong consolation to their troubled hearts. He, therefore, gave them two immutable things in which it was impossible for Him to lie. What, then, are these two immutable things, these un-removable pillars on which it rests? God s word in the promise, and God s oath in its confirmation. These are the two immutable things, which I shall now, therefore, more fully open.
1. The word of God s promise is essentially immutable. Whatever God promises stands as firm as the very being of God himself. His own eternal throne is not firmer than the word of His mouth, as expressed in the promise. But what the apostle chiefly refers to is the word of promise made to Abraham. Now if you will observe, when God first made a promise to Abraham, there was no oath given with it. God simply said to him, "I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing; and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." Gen 12:2,3 I need not enter into all the promises made to Abraham, but this is the chief one as regards us: "In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed," for this promise takes us poor Gentiles in. As the apostle argues, "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham." Gal 3:8,9 The promise thus given flowed out of and ratified the everlasting covenant, for when God gave it He said to Abraham, "As for Me, behold My covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations:" that is, their spiritual father, for they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. I need not tell you, that this seed in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed, is Christ. "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ." Gal 3:16
This, then, is the word of promise made to Abraham; and if we by faith in Christ Jesus are children of Abraham, then are we blessed with faithful Abraham, and the word of promise secures us in the possession and enjoyment of every blessing of the new covenant. This made the apostle cry out, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." Eph 1:3 And observe how he adds as the richest and primest blessing: "In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace." Eph 1:7 Now is not this calculated to give strong consolation to the heirs of promise who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before them, that they are blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus?
2. The other immutable thing, is God s oath which He gave to Abraham after He had tried his faith by bidding him offer up his only son Isaac. Then it was that the Angel of the Lord (Jehovah-Jesus), "called out of heaven the second time and said, By Myself have I sworn, saith the Lord." Gen 22:15,16 God, so to speak, was not satisfied with merely speaking to Abraham in the word of promise. That, indeed, would have been enough for Abraham s faith; he did not require the oath: he gave obedience to God s word, without asking anything more when He bade him offer up his son. But to confirm his faith and give ground for the strong consolation which was to be afforded throughout all time to the heirs of promise, He confirmed it by an oath, or, as it is in the margin, "interposed Himself," that is, put Himself between the promise and faith. Now God could swear by no greater, and therefore sware by Himself; and these were the words of the oath: "Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee." The blessing was that in his seed, that is, Christ, all the families of the earth should be blessed, and that his seed, spiritual and natural, should be multiplied as the stars of heaven.
Thus the everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure, made fast with our Lord in eternity, and in due time with Abraham, from whose loins the promised seed should come, rests upon these two immutable pillars, the promise of God and the oath of God. These two immutable things, then, in which it was impossible for God to lie, form the foundation of the strong consolation which God pours into the breast of the heirs of promise. Whatever change they may endure, whatever mutability in self or in others, God changeth not; His promise and His oath stand fast for evermore.
But how does this give them strong consolation? In this way. Am I an heir of promise? Do I believe in the Son of God? Do I walk in the steps of the faith of Abraham? Have I the same faith, the same hope? Then I have the same ground for confidence. On what did his faith rest? Was it not upon God s promise and God s oath? But how shall I know that my faith rests upon these two immutable pillars? I have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before me in the gospel of Jesus Christ; I have embraced the promise of eternal life made in Christ; I have rolled my guilty soul upon the blood of the atonement in the promised Seed; I have found and felt refuge in Him; I have come out of all false hopes, vain confidences and creature expectations, and built all my hope and all my confidence on the finished work of the Son of God. He has more or less made Himself known to my soul by some manifestation of His glorious Person, atoning blood and dying love. This stamps me as one of the characters to whom the promise is made, for have I not "fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before me?" Have I any other refuge, help, or hope? Do I want any other Saviour or any other salvation? It is an experience of these things, which marks me as an heir of promise. Then I am blessed with the faith of Abraham; then the covenant made with Abraham was made with me as a son of Abraham; I, having Abraham s faith, have Abraham s blessing, and Abraham s God is my God, because I believe in the same God that Abraham believed in.
This is the way in which faith is enabled sometimes to argue, yea, to fill its mouth with arguments against the accusations of law, conscience, sin and Satan. And may I not apply these arguments to your case? Have you as a poor, self-condemned, guilty sinner fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before you in the gospel? Have you embraced in the arms of a living faith the Son of God, and felt and found Him precious to your soul? Then you are one of the heirs of promise, and God has secured your inheritance by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for Him to lie. Men may lie, for all are liars from the womb. We carry in our bosom a lying heart and live in a lying world; but it is impossible for God to lie; and whatever men may say, think, or do, He remains the same, immutable in His glorious perfections; unchanging, unchangeable; for with Him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Here we rest our hope.
IV.-And now let me endeavour to show what this hope is as a grace of the Spirit, its nature, and its character, how it works and operates, and the blessings which attend it: "Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil."
I intimated that by hope in our text we were to understand two things:
1. the object of hope;
2. the grace of hope.
The first is, as I have explained, the word of promise; the second is that peculiar grace of the Spirit, which acts upon it. And the reason why both are thus comprehended is because they are so closely connected.
When those who flee for refuge embrace the promise of eternal fife in Christ Jesus, this raises up a good hope through grace. They may not have very strong consolation or be blessed with a very great deliverance; but they find peace, acceptance and a sweet sense of tranquillity stealing over their breast so far as they are favoured with a living faith in the Son of God, and He makes Himself in any measure precious to their soul.
Now this hope is their anchor, which holds them fast amid every storm. Many are the storms, which beat upon these vessels of mercy. Storms without and storms within; storms in providence and storms in grace; storms in the world, storms in the church, storms from friends and storms from foes. But they have that which enables them to outride every storm, and that is the good hope through grace which God Himself has dropped into their breast from His own heavenly throne, that it may keep them fast and firm to covenant settlements and hold them up in every trying hour.
But of what use is an anchor except against the dangers of a lee shore? Were there no lee shore, no breakers, no rolling surf, no strong wind and no apprehension of shipwreck, the anchor would hang at the bow merely an ornament, if not a dead weight to the ship. But when a lee shore is in sight and the white surf shows the breakers ahead, and as the sounding line is dropped, and fathom after fathom is called out as decreasing in depth, and danger is at hand, the command is given, "Let the anchor go." The word is obeyed. The anchor sinks into the sea; it takes firm hold of the sand; it brings up the ship; and as long as it holds there is no danger of the vessel being driven upon a lee shore, however the surf may roll over the rocks. It is both "sure and steadfast." First it is "sure," that is, it will never break; and, secondly, it is "steadfast," that is, no violence of wind or wave can make it lose its hold. Now these are the very two things required in an anchor. It-might break from badness of material, or it might not hold fast the ship through badness of the ground. But this anchor of the soul is so strong that it cannot break, and the ground is so good that it must ever hold fast.
For where is this anchor fixed? "Within the veil." Who is there? Jesus at the right hand of God. The anchor of a ship will sometimes what is called "come home;" the sand or gravel does not hold the fluke firm, and the anchor drags along the ground and thus becomes practically useless. Or the wind might be so strong as to break the cable. The hawser might part, or, if a chain cable, one of the finks might break, and all the precautions taken by the most skilful seamen prove ineffectual. But not so with our anchor: that is "sure." The stock can never break, the chain never part. And it is "steadfast," so that it can never move. Why? Because it is within the veil, takes fast hold of heavenly ground, and, I hardly like to use the expression lest I should drop anything derogatory to His divine Person, it takes hold of the Lord Himself, so that He Himself must be dragged from His eternal throne before the anchor can fail to hold the ship.
But this anchor may still be there and yet not always be seen. The anchor of a ship when down in the sea is never seen; even the cable itself is hidden by the waves. But ever and anon the sun breaks forth and shines upon it; and though it be dripping with the brine, yet how the bright ray manifests when it shines upon the links that there the anchor still is and holds the ship firm. So our anchor is in heaven and cannot be seen, and the cable that holds on to the anchor is sometimes so deep in the brine of a storm-tossed heart as to be scarcely visible. But let the Sun of righteousness shine upon it; then how one ray out of His glorious fullness lights up the chain that holds the anchor firm; and then we not only feel the goodness of the ground and the goodness of the anchor, but we see also that which connects the anchor and the ship, even the grace that God shines upon as being His own gift and work. Now this anchor will never fail you in any difficulties. Whatever storms may beat upon your heart or threaten your destruction, if you have this good hope through grace, this anchor of your soul both sure and steadfast, it will certainly hold out to the end.
How careful therefore we should be to see whether we have this anchor; whether it is in the right place; whether it was made by heavenly hands; whether it was let down by the hand of God into our soul, and whether the whole of it, every part of the anchor and every part of the cable were all manufactured in the court of heaven. No earthly anchor will ever stand the storm that will one day blow. Earthly manufacture will not endure divine storms. Cables wrought by human hands will part when the winds blow and the waves rise, and the anchor itself will be sure to come home when we want it most. Ships never go to sea with unproved anchors. They are all proved in the strongest way before the safety of the ship and crew is entrusted to them. How foolish then for any one to embark upon a profession if he has not proved his anchor. What can he expect but shipwreck? But if he has an anchor that God Himself has, so to speak, welded by His divine hand, let down into his soul by His own heavenly power, and fastened at both ends, the ship and the anchorage, he will stand every storm and live at last. Well I am persuaded that no other anchor will ever hold up the vessel as it rides over the sea of life and preserve it safe from every storm, till at last it enters with swelling sail into the haven of endless rest, where storms blow no more.
God grant me this evening to have spoken a word to the heirs of promise, to those here present who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before them, and in whose breast there is any divine testimony that God has wrought a work upon their souls. Look to that, dear friends. Cast away, as God enables, all creature hopes; they will never profit you in the day of need. Vain expectations and ill-grounded hopes will be as spiders webs in the day of trial. Prove your anchor; look at it with both your eyes, and see the true seal of God upon it, marked in heaven s armoury, and given out of God s word into your soul; and if you can trace anything real, spiritual, gracious, experimental in your heart, bless God for it. It is not the size of the anchor. A boat has not the same anchor as a three-decker. Your anchor may be a small anchor, and yours a little boat, yet still chartered by the great Owner of souls; and your anchor may be as good, if not as large; as efficient, if not as strong, as the anchor of the most experienced believer in this assembly. It is the reality of a thing we want; and if there be reality, though the work be feeble, the hope faint, and the faith small-if the reality be there, there is eternal life.