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Holy Living

by Jeremy Taylor

 

CHAPTER IV.

SECTION II.

 

Of the Hope of a Christian.

 

Faith, differs from hope in the extension of its object, and in the intention of degree. St. Austin thus accounts their differences:[197] Faith is of all things revealed, good and bad, rewards and punishments, of things past, present, and to come, of things that concern us, of things that concern us not; but hope hath for its object things only that are good, and fit to be hoped for, future, and concerning ourselves; and because these things are offered to us upon conditions of which we may so fail as we may change our will, therefore our certainty is less than the adherences of faith; which (because faith relies only upon one proposition, that is, the truth of the word of God,) cannot be made uncertain in themselves, though the object of our hope may become uncertain to us, and to our possession. For it is infallibly certain that there is heaven for all the godly, and for me amongst them all, if I do my duty. But that I shall enter into heaven is the object of my hope, not of my faith; and is so sure as it is certain I shall persevere in the ways of God.

 

The Acts of Hope are,

1. To rely upon God with a confident expectation of his promises; ever esteeming that every promise of God is a magazine of all that grace and relief which we can need in that instance for which the promise is made. Every degree of hope is a degree of confidence.

2. To esteem all the danger of an action, and the possibilities of miscarriage, and every cross accident that can intervene, to be no defect on Godís part, but either a mercy on his part, or a fault on ours; for then we shall be sure to trust in God when we see him to be our confidence, and ourselves the cause of all mischances. The hope of a Christian is prudent and religious.

3. To rejoice in the midst of a misfortune, or seeming sadness, knowing that this may work for good, and will, if we be not wanting to our souls. This is a direct act of hope to look through the cloud, and look for a beam of the light from God; and this is called in Scripture Ď rejoicing in tribulation, when the God of hope fills us with all joy in believing.í Every degree of hope brings a degree of joy.

4. To desire, to pray, and to long for the great object of our hope, the mighty price of our high calling; and to desire the other things of this life as they are promised, that is, so far as they are made necessary and useful to us, in order to Godís glory and the great end of souls. Hope and fasting are said to be the two wings of prayer. Fasting is but as the wing of a bird; but hope is like the wing of an angel, soaring up to heaven, and bears our prayers to the throne of grace. Without hope, it is impossible to pray, but hope makes our prayers reasonable, passionate, and religious; for it relies upon Godís promise, or experience, or providence, and story. Prayer is always in proportion to our hope, zealous and affectionate.

5. Perseverance is the perfection of the duty of hope, and its last act; and so long as our hope continues, so long we go on in duty and diligence; but he that is to raise a castle in an hour, sits down and does nothing towards it; and Herod, the sophister, left off to teach his son, when he saw that twenty-four pages, appointed to wait on him, and called by the several letters of the alphabet, could never make him to understand his letters perfectly.

 

Rules to govern our Hope.

1. Let your hope be moderate; proportioned to your state, person, and condition, whether it be or gifts or graces, or temporal favours. It is an ambitious hope for persons, whose diligence is like them that are least in the kingdom of heaven, to believe themselves endeared to God as the greatest saints; or that they shall have a throne equal to St. Paul, or the blessed Virgin Mary. A stammerer cannot, with moderation, hope for the gift of tongues; or a peasant to become learned as Origen; or if a beggar desires, or hopes, to become a king, or asks for a thousand pounds a year, we call him impudent, not passionate, much less reasonable. Hope that God will crown your endeavours with equal measures of that reward which he indeed freely gives, but yet gives according to our proportions. Hope for good success according to, or not much beyond, the efficacy of the causes and the instrument; and let the husbandman hope for a good harvest, not for a rich kingdom, or a victorious army.

2. Let your hope be well founded, relying upon just confidences; that is, upon God, according to his revelations and promises. For it is possible for a man to have a vain hope upon God; and, in matters of religion, it is presumption to hope that Godís mercies will be poured forth upon lazy persons, that do nothing towards holy and strict walking, nothing (I say) but trust and long for an event besides and against all disposition of the means. Every false principle in religion is a reed of Egypt, false and dangerous. Rely not in temporal things upon uncertain prophecies and astrology, not upon our own wit or industry, not upon gold or friends, not upon armies and princes; expect not health from physicians, that cannot cure their own breath, much less their mortality: use all lawful instruments, but expect nothing from them above their natural or ordinary efficacy, and, in the use of them, from God expect a blessing. A hope that is easy and credulour is an arm of flesh, an ill supporter without a bone.[198]

3. Let your hope be without vanity, or garishness of spirit; but sober, grave, and silent, fixed in the heart, not borne upon the lip, apt to support our spirits within, but not to provide envy abroad.

4. Let your hope be of things possible, safe, and useful.[199]

He that hopes for an opportunity of acting his revenge, or lust, or rapine, watches to do himself a mischief. All evils of ourselves or brethren are objects of our fear, not hope; and, when it is truly understood, things useless and unsafe can no more be wished for than things impossible can be obtained.

5. Let your hope be patient, without tediousness of spirit, or hastiness of prefixing time. Make no limits or prescriptions to God; but let your prayers and endeavours go on still with a constant attendance on the periods of Godís providence. The men of Bethulia resolved to wait upon God but five days longer; but deliverance stayed seven days, and yet came at last. And take not every accident for an argument of despair; but go on still in hoping; and begin again to work if any ill accident have interrupted you.

 

Means of Hope, and Remedies against Despair.

The means to cure despair, and to continue or increase hope, are partly by consideration, partly by exercise.

1. Apply your mind to the cure of all the proper causes of despair: and they are, weakness of spirit or violence of passion. He that greedily covets is impatient of delay, and desperate in contrary accidents; and he that is little of heart is also of little hope, and apt to sorrow and suspicion.[200]

2. Despise the things of the world, and be indifferent to all changes and events of Providence; and for the things of God, the promises are certain to be performed in kind; and where there is less variety of chance, there is less possibility of being mocked:[201] but he that creates to himself thousands of little hopes, uncertain in the promise, fallible in the event, and depending upon ten thousand circumstances, (as are all the things of this world,) shall often ail in his expectations, and be used to arguments of distrust in such hopes.

3. So long as your hopes are regular and reasonable, though in temporal affairs, such as are deliverance from enemies, escaping a storm or shipwreck, recovery from a sickness, ability to pay your debts, etc., remember that there are some things ordinary, and some things extraordinary, to prevent despair. In ordinary, remember that the very hoping in God is an endearment of him, and a means to obtain the blessing: ĎI will deliver him, because he hath put his trust in me.í 2. There are in God all those glorious attributes and excellences which in the nature of things can possibly create or confirm hope. God is, 1. strong; 2. wise; 3. true; 4. loving. There cannot be added another capacity to create a confidence; for upon these premises we cannot fail of receiving what is fit for us. 3. God hath obliged himself by promise that we shall have the good of everything we desire; for even losses and denials shall work for the good of them that fear God. And, if we will trust the truth of God for performance of the general, we may well trust his wisdom to choose for us the particular. But the extraordinaries of God are apt to supply the defect of all natural and human possibilities. 1. God hath, in many instances, given extraordinary virtue to the active causes and instruments - to a jaw-bone, to kill a multitude; to three hundred men, to destroy a great army; to Jonathan and his armour-bearer, to route a whole garrison. 2. He hath given excellent sufferance and vigorousness to the sufferers, arming them with strange courage, heroical fortitude, invincible resolution, and glorious patience: and thus he lays no more upon us than we are able to bear; for when he increases our sufferings, he lessens them by increasing our patience. 3. His providence is extra-regular, and produces strange things beyond common rules; and he that led Israel through a sea, and made a rock pour forth waters, and the heavens to give them bread and flesh, and whole armies to be destroyed with fantastic noises, and the fortune of all France to be recovered and entirely revolved by the arms and conduct of a girl, against the torrent of the English fortune and chivalry, can do what he please, and still retain the same affections to his people, and the same providence over mankind as ever. And it is impossible for that man to despair who remembers that his helper is omnipotent, and can do what he please[202] Let us rest there a while - he can if he please: and he is infinitely loving, willing enough; and he is infinitely wise, choosing better for us than we can do for ourselves. This, in all ages and chances, hath supported the afflicted people of God, and carried them on dry ground through a Red Sea. God invites and cherishes the hopes of men by all the variety of his providence.

4. If your ease be brought to the last extremity, and that you are at the pitís brink, even the very margin of the grave, yet then despair not; at least put it off a little longer: and remember that whatsoever final accident takes away all hope from you, if you stay a little longer, and, in the meanwhile, bear it sweetly, it will also take away all despair too. For when you enter into the regions of death you rest from all your labours and your fears.

5. Let them who are tempted to despair of their salvation, consider how much Christ suffered to redeem us from sin and its eternal punishment; and he that considers this must needs believe that the desires which God had to save us were not less than infinite, and therefore not easily to be satisfied without it.

6. Let no man despair of Godís mercies to forgive him, unless he be sure that his sins are greater than Godís mercies. If they be not, we have much reason to hope that the stronger ingredient will prevail, so long as we are in the time and state of repentance, and within the possibilities and latitude of the covenant; and as long as any promise can but reflect upon him with an oblique beam of comfort. Possibly the man may err in his judgment of circumstances; and therefore let him fear: but, because it is not certain he is mistaken, let him not despair.

7. Consider that God, who knows all the events of men, and what their final condition shall be, who shall be saved, and who will perish; yet he treateth them as his own, calls them to be his own, offers fair conditions as to his own, gives them blessings, arguments of mercy, and instances of fear, to call them off from death, and to call them home to life; and, in all this, shows no despair of happiness to them; and therefore much less should any man despair for himself, since he never was able to read the scrolls of the eternal predestination.

8. Remember that despair belongs only to passionate fools or villains, such as were Achitophel and Judas, or else to devils and damned persons; and as the hope of salvation is a good disposition towards it, so is despair a certain consignation to eternal ruin. A man may be damned for despairing to be saved. Despair is the proper passion of damnation. ďGod hath placed truth and felicity in heaven, curiosity and repentance upon earth, but misery and despair are the portions of hell.Ē[203]

9. Gather together into your spirit and its treasure-house, the memory, not only all the promises of God, but also the remembrances of experience and the former senses of the divine favours, that from thence you may argue from times past to the present, and enlarge to the future and to greater blessings. For although the conjectures and expectations of hope are not like the conclusions of faith, yet they are a helmet against the scorching of despair in temporal things, and an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast, against the fluctuations of the spirit in matters of the soul. St. Bernard reckons divers principles of hope, by enumerating the instances of the divine mercy; and we may be them reduce this rule to practice, in the following manner: 1. God hath preserved me from many sins; his mercies are infinite: I hope he will still preserve me from more, and for ever. 2. I have sinned, and God smote me not; his mercies are still over the penitent: I hope he will deliver me from all the evils I have deserved. He hath forgiven me many sins of malice, and therefore surely he will pity my infirmities. 3. God visited my heart and changed it; he loves the work of his own hands, and so my heart is now become; I hope he will love this too. 4. When I repented, he received me graciously; and therefore I hope, if I do my endeavour, he will totally forgive me. 5. He helped my slow and beginning endeavours; and therefore I hope he will lead me to perfection. 6. When he had given me something first, then he gave me more; I hope, therefore, he will keep me from falling, and give me the grace of perseverance. 7. He hath chosen me to be a disciple of Christís in situation; he hath elected me to his kingdom of grace; and therefore I hope also to the kingdom of his glory. 8. He died for me when I was his enemy; and therefore I hope he will save me when he hath reconciled me to him and is become my friend. 9. ĎGod hath given us his Son: how should not he with him give us all things else?í All these St. Bernard reduces to these three heads, as the instruments of all our hopes: 1. The charity of God adopting us; 2. The truth of his promises; 3. The power of his performance: which, if any truly weighs, no infirmity or accident can break his hopes into indiscernible fragments, but some good planks will remain after the greatest storm and shipwreck. This was St. Paulís instrument: ĎExperience begets hope, and hope maketh not ashamed.í

10. Do thou take care only of thy duty, of the means and proper instruments of thy purpose, and leave the end to God - lay that up with him, and he will take care of all that is entrusted to him; and this, being an act of confidence in God, is also a means of security to thee.

11. By special arts of spiritual prudence and arguments secure the confident belief of the resurrection; and thou canst not but hope for everything else which you may reasonably expect or lawfully desire upon the stock of the divine mercies and promises.

12. If a despair seizes you in a particular temporal instance, let it not defile thy spirit with impure mixture, or mingle in spiritual considerations; but rather let it make thee fortify thy soul in matters of religion, that, by being thrown out of your earthly dwelling and confidence, you may retire into the strengths of grace, and hope the more strongly in that by how much you are the more defeated in this,that despair of a fortune or a success may become the necessity of all virtue.

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