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shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain, and at his best estate is altogether vanity P. And therefore nothing more reasonable and more wise than to say as he does, And now, Lord, what is my hope? Truly my hope is even in thee q !
Of the due regulation of hope. The object of this passion, as we have already seen, is distant good, that may be attained, though with some difficulty; and to each of these particulars regard must be had in the regulation of it.
As first, the object of hope being good, something that we apprehend as beneficial to us, we should make the best things the prime object of our hope, and bestow upon them the greatest degrees of it. Now the best things are doubtless those that will make us most happy in the enjoyment of them, and which we may be most secure of when we have them, and will continue longest with us.
Of all things in the world, therefore, true piety and virtue being the most conducive to our happiness, as having the promise of this life, and that which is to come, and tending most manifestly to the enjoyment of what is truly desirable here below, and to the ineffable glories and felicities of heaven; and withal being such goods as we cannot be deprived of without our own consent, and which will continue with us till death, and beyond it, and procure our admittance, through the merits of our Redeemer, into the eternal kingdom of God; and follow us thither, and there abide with us for ever, and render us capable of enjoying those divine pleasures
p Psalm xxxix.
y Ver. 7.
in that blissful place, which are too big even for our most enlarged conception here: true piety and virtue, being all this, must needs be allowed the preference to all the greatness and riches and pleasures of this earth; and consequently that we may more and more increase in virtue should be the prime object of our hope.
Instead of being full of the hopes of rising to such a degree of honour and preferment, of getting such an estate, of enjoying such and such pleasures and the like; it would better become us, both as Christians and as men, to hope to be masters of such and such a virtue, to mortify such a vice, to be able to govern our passions, and to enjoy that peace of God in our consciences here, which passeth all understanding, and which is a delicious foretaste of the eternal rest and tranquillity and joy of heaven. And had we a just notion of the excellency of virtue, and knew ourselves so well as to be sensible of our want of it; as we could not but most earnestly desire it, and endeavour after it, so should we be in longing hope and expectation till we had acquired it. And though such expressions as these, I hope I shall be wiser and better, more humble and meek and patient, and sober and religious, and the like, are generally spoken with very little concern, and have more of custom and formality in them, than of that warmth of affection which such most desirable things do require; yet I am sure they sound much better from the mouth of a Christian, than to say, I hope to be great and rich, and to live like an epicure, &c. and will have much more of the heart go along with them of him that is a Christian indeed.
And they will have still more and more of the heart, as we more and more consider the indispensable necessity of our souls being replenished with the graces of religion here, in order to our partaking of the rewards of it hereafter.
Now, who is there that does not pretend most earnestly to hope to go to heaven when he leaves this world ? But can any man in reason hope for heaven, without piety and virtue? Can he hope for the end without the means ? for the reward without performing the service ? for the promise without observing the condition upon which it was mader?
He therefore that really hopes for heaven and salvation, that is, for the enjoyment of that full, complete felicity for which he was made, which he continually thirsts after, and will be eternally miserable if he does not at length attain, must likewise hope for, and endeavour after, the proper means to attain it, and that is Christian virtue; for into heaven no unclean person can enter, and unless we repent, we shall all perish, and without holiness no man shall see the Lords
And this our hope for the means must be like that for the end, not a cool, careless, unactive woulding, and sudden transient wishing, but an earnest, constant, longing expectation of the blessed time when we shall be conformed to the image of Christ in righteousness and true holiness, and a diligent endeavour to grow
r Cum omnes perpetuo velint vivere, omnes id agere deberent ut vitam participare possint: quia inconsultissimum ac stultissimum est, id quosdam agere, ut quod affectu ac voto volunt, id ipsum re atque actu nolle videantur. Salv. ad Eccles. Cathol. lib. I.
s Ephes. v. 5; Luke xiii. 3; Heb. xii. 14.
which we hope for, and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, till we come to the stature of a perfect man in him; even as children hope to be men, and scholars to learn perfectly what their master teaches.
For we must not forget, as we are too apt to do in this case, that hope is one of the passions, and where it is in earnest, be the object what it will, is attended with an affectionate warmth and ardour; and we feel ourselves moved by it in a peculiar and more than ordinary manner, as we do in the other passions of the soul. And therefore, so should we feel ourselves affected, when we hope and pray for virtue and for heaven, or, which is much the same thing, for grace and glory.
But it may be, because the object of hope is distant good, though we pretend earnestly to hope for heaven, yet we may think there is no need of such earnest hope for virtue, since it is nearer hand, and we may help ourselves to it when we please. But, alas ! who can have such a thought that is at all acquainted with himself! “ The good that I would “ I do not: and the evil that I would not, that I do. “ For though to will be present with me; yet how “ to perform the good I know not, because of the
prevalency of the law in my members against the “ law of my mind,” which in this degenerate state is but too visible and deplorable: this must be every man's confession and complaint that knows himself, as it was St. Paul's, when he represented the condition of man since the fallt, without the assistance of the grace of God, which we are to beg of, and thank him for, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
t Rom. vii. 18, 19, &c.
The helps and assistances of grace therefore to perform what is requisite in order to the attainment of the great end we hope for, being so necessary, that without them we can do nothing towards it; all our sufficiency being of God, who giveth us to will and to do of his good pleasure"; virtue as well as heaven must be looked upon as a distant good, till implanted in us by the grace of God, who is the giver of every good and perfect gifts. And consequently virtue as well as heaven is the proper object of our earnest hope, and that upon the very same bottom; because the latter, which is the end, cannot be attained without the former as the means, and both so much without us, that they are entirely the gift of God.
Virtue therefore as the means, and heaven as the end, and the grace of God as that assistance which is necessary to the attainment of the one by the means of the other, through the merits of the great Redeemer, are the prime object of our hope, and upon which the highest degrees of it should be employed; and if we are not wanting on our part, we need not fear a disappointment.
It is true, distant good, how great and desirable soever, is not properly the object of our hope, unless it be considered as attainable; and therefore, even virtue and heaven itself, without the supposition of their being to be attained, though they might be admired, yet could not be hoped for, as they are not in the sad regions of the damned, where all hope is turned into despair.
But blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his abundant mercy u Phil. ii. 13.
x James i. 17.