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I. The Character of Our Hope

     As there is so much confusion and uncertainty respecting this branch of our subject, and in order to clear away the rubbish which human devisings have gathered around it, we will deal first with the negative side of the character of our Hope.

1. Our Hope is not the Conversion of the World.

     We pray that these pages may be read by many who will be startled by the above statement. A world which shall eventually be saved by the preaching of the Gospel has been the expectation of almost all Christendom. That the Gospel shall yet triumph over the world, the flesh, and the Devil is the belief of the great majority of those who profess to be the Lord's people. In the seminaries, in the pulpits, in the Christian literature of the day, and in the great missionary gatherings where placards bearing the words "The world for Christ" are prominently displayed, has this theory been zealously heralded. It is supposed that anything short of a converted "world" is a concept dishonoring and derogatory to the Gospel. We are told the Gospel cannot fail because it is the power of God, and though the Church has failed, yet, a day is surely coming when this captivating ideal shall be realized. To believe other than this, is to be dubbed a "pessimist," yea, it is to be looked upon as a hinderer and traitor to the cause of Christ. But what are the plain facts?
     The Lord Jesus Christ preached the Gospel, preached it faithfully, lovingly, zealously and untiringly. But with what results? Was the world "converted" under His preaching? Should it be said this question is not a fair one because He preached only locally, we accept the correction, but ask further, Was Palestine converted under His preaching? We have only to glance at the four Gospels to find an answer. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord declared that the "many" were on the broad road that leadeth to destruction and that only a "few" were on the narrow path that leadeth unto life. In the Parable of the Sower He announced that out of four castings of the good seed from His hand three of them fell upon unfruitful ground. Again, we are told, "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not" (John 1:10, 11). No; the Gospel as preached by the Son of God Himself held out no promise of a world converted by the proclamation of it, for after three and a half years' ministry such as this world has never witnessed before or since, there was but a handful who responded to the gracious appeals of the Gospel from His lips - there were but one hundred and twenty all told that waited in the upper room for the coming of the Holy Spirit which He had promised to send to His followers (Acts 1:15).
     How was it in the days of the apostles? During the first generation of the Church's history, wonderful things happened which were well calculated to convert the world if anything could. Eleven men who had been trained by our Lord Himself were now sent forth to herald the glad tidings of salvation. The Holy Spirit was poured forth upon them, and in addition to the Eleven, Saul of Tarsus was miraculously saved and sent forth as the apostle to the Gentiles. But what success attended their efforts? How were they received by the world? Again we have but to turn to the New Testament Scriptures to find our answer. Like their Master, they, too, were despised and rejected of men. The apostles were everywhere spoken against and regarded as the offscouring of the earth. Some of them were cast into prison, others were slain by the sword. One suffered death by crucifixion and the last of the little band was banished to the Isle of Patmos. True it is that their labors were not entirely in vain. True it is that God honored His own Word and numbers were saved, and here and there churches were organized. But the multitudes, the great masses, both of Jews and Gentiles, remained unmoved and unconverted. The actual conditions, in the days of the apostles then, gave no promise of a world converted by the Gospel.
     How is it in our own day? "Ah!" it will be said "times have changed since then: Christ and His apostles lived in the days of Paganism and barbarism, but under the enlightenment of our modern civilization this twentieth century is far otherwise." Yes, but all is not gold that glitters. We do not deny, we praise God for the fact, that to-day there are far more Christians upon earth than there were in the first century. But there are far more sinners too! What we are discussing now is the Conversion of the world. Has the growth of the Church of God kept pace with the increase of the earth's population? We trow not. To-day there are probably 1,000,000,000 souls on earth who have never even heard the name of Christ! How then can we talk about a converted world when upwards of two-thirds of humanity is destitute of the Gospel? Moreover, what of Christendom itself? How much of that which bears the name of Christ is truly Christian? What proportion of those who term themselves the children of God, are really entitled to that name? More than half of professing Christendom is found within the pales of the Greek and Roman Catholic Churches! And what of Protestantism itself? What of the evangelical churches filled with their worldly, pleasure-loving, theater-going, Sabbath-desecrating, prayer-meeting-neglecting members? No; my reader, be not deceived with appearances or high-sounding phrases. God's flock is only a "little flock" (Luke 12:32). There is but a `remnant according to the election of grace" (Rom. 11:5).
     Has the Gospel failed? Have God's purposes been defeated? Certainly not. The Gospel was never designed to convert the world. God never purposed to regenerate all humanity in this dispensation, any more than He did under the Mosaic Economy, when He suffered the nations to walk in their own ways. God's purpose for this Age is clearly defined in Acts 15:14 - "Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name." In full harmony with this, the apostle Paul declared, "I am made all things to all men, that I might be all means save some" (1 Cor. 9:22). Clearly then, the Hope of the Church is not the Conversion of the World.
     Having dwelt at some length upon the general, let us now come to the particular -

2. Our Hope is not the Salvation of the Soul.

     In the New Testament the word "Salvation" has a threefold scope - past, present and future, which, respectively, has reference to our deliverance from the penalty, the power, and the presence of sin. When we say, above, that our Hope is not the Salvation of the soul, we mean that it is not our deliverance from the wrath to come which is the prospect God sets before His people. To certain of our readers it may appear almost a wearisome waste of time for us to discuss these points, but for the sake of the class for which this work is specially designed we would ask them to bear with us in patience. In these days when the Bible is so grievously neglected both in the pulpit and in the pew, we cannot afford to take anything for granted. Multitudes of those in our churches are ignorant of the most elementary truths of the Christian faith. Experience shows that comparatively few people are clear about even the A, B, C, of the Gospel. Talk to the average church-member, and only too often it will be found that he has nothing more than a vague and uncertain hope about his personal salvation. He is "trying to live up to the light that he has," he is "doing his best," and he hopes that, somehow, everything will come out right in the end. He does not dare to say I know I have passed from death unto life, but he hopes to go to Heaven at the last.
     Nowhere does Scripture present the Salvation of the soul as the believer's hope. Salvation from the guilt, the penalty, the wages, of sin is something for which believers thank God even now. Said our Lord to His disciples, "Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). The present-tense aspect of our salvation is presented in many Scriptures - "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death to life" (John 5:24). How simple and definite this is! Eternal life is something which every believer in Christ already possesses, and for him there is no possibility of future condemnation in the sense of having to endure God's wrath. Again we read, "Beloved now are we the sons of God" (1 John 3:2). We do not have to obey God's commandments, walk worthy, and serve the Lord, in order to become God's children, we are to do these things because we are, already, members of the household of faith. The salvation or redemption of our bodies is future, for it will not be until our Saviour's return that he "shall" change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body" (Phil. 3:21). But the salvation of the soul, deliverance from the wrath to come, is an accomplished fact for every sinner, that has received the Lord Jesus Christ as his or her personal Saviour. All such have been "accepted in the Beloved" (Eph. 1:6). All such have been "made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col. 1:12). all such have been "perfected for ever" (Heb. 10:14). So far as their standing before God is concerned.
     As another has said, "Salvation is not away off yonder at the gates of Heaven; salvation is at the cross. The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared, and it brings salvation all the way down to where the sinner is - right there. You know our Lord's own picture of it. It is the illustration to which my mind recurs most instantly - that illustration of the good Samaritan. You know how beautifully that shadows out this blessed truth; that just as the good Samaritan went down the Jericho road and ministered to the wretch who lay there half dead, pouring oil into his wounds right there where he lay, just so the grace of God, that brings salvation, has come to the sinner in the place where he lies in his sins. No matter how great a sinner he may be, if he can be persuaded to turn the eye of faith toward the cross, there salvation comes" (Dr. C. I. Scofield). Again -

3. Our Hope is not Death.

     Of all the extravagant and absurd interpretations of Scripture which have found a place among sober expositors is the belief that Death is the Hope which God has set before the believer. How it ever came to find acceptance it is difficult to say. It is true that there are a number of passages which speak of the Lord returning suddenly and unexpectedly, but to make the words "At such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh" and "Behold I come as a thief in the night" mean that death may steal in upon the believer without warning is to reduce the Word of God to meaningless jargon and is to make sane exposition impossible. Scripture says what it means, and means what it says. True there are Parables in the Bible; true there are some passages which are highly symbolical; but where this is the case the context usually gives clear intimation to that effect, and where it does not, the plain and literal force should always be given to the language of Holy Writ. In Scripture "death" means death, and the coming again of the Son of man means His coming, and the two expressions are not synonymous. As we have said, the Return of Christ and death (sometimes) each, alike, come suddenly and unexpectedly, but there all analogy between them ends.
     It is passing strange that Bible teachers should have confounded Death with the Second Coming of Christ. The former is spoken of as an "Enemy" (1 Cor. 15:26), whereas the latter is termed "that blessed hope" (Titus 2:13), and surely these two terms cannot refer to the same thing. At the Return of our Lord we shall be made like Him (1 John 3:2), but believers are not made like Him at death, for death introduces them into a disembodied state. That "death" is not the believer's Hope is clear from many Scriptures. In 1 Pet. 1:3 the apostle returns thanks because we have been begotten again "unto a living hope." The saint of God has a living hope in a dying scene: a glorious prospect beyond this vale of tears. In 2 Tim. 4:8 the apostle Paul reminds us that there is laid up a crown of righteousness unto all them that love Christ's "appearing," which is further proof that death is not the Second Coming of Christ, for who is there that "loves" death? Death is my going to Christ, but His Return is Christ coming to me. Death is a cause of sadness and sorrow, but the Return of the Lord is a cause of joy and comfort - "Wherefore comfort one another with these words" (1 Thess. 4:18, see context). Death lays the body in the dust, but at the Return of our Redeemer His people arise from the dust - "the dead in Christ shall rise first" (1 Thess. 4:17). Death is the "wages of sin," which means that death is the penalty of sin, but so completely has that penalty been borne by our Saviour that we read, "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (Heb. 9:28). Death was certainly not the hope of the early Christians as is clear from 1 Thess. 1:9, 10 where we read, "Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven" - these Thessalonian saints were looking for Christ not death. Finally; death cannot be our Hope, for death will not be the portion of all believers as is clear from the language of 1 Cor. 15:51, "We shall not all sleep." What then is our Hope? We answer -

4. Our Hope is the personal Return of our Redeemer.

     "Jesus Christ our hope" (1 Tim. 1:1). Jesus Christ is the believer's "all in all" (Col. 3:11). He is "our peace" (Eph. 2:14). He is "our life" (Col. 3:14). He is "made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). And, we repeat, He is "our Hope." But hope always looks forward. Hope has to do with the future. "We are saved in hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it" (Rom. 8:24, 25). This means that what we hope for is that which we do not yet posses.[3] As another has said, "Man was not made for the present, and the present was not intended to satisfy man. ** It is for the future, not the present, that man exists" (W. Trotter).
     The Hope of the believer is clearly set forth in Titus 2:13 - "Looking for that blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (R. V.). Our Hope is the personal Return of Christ when He shall come back again to receive us unto Himself. Our Hope is to be taken out of this scene of sin and suffering and sorrow to be where Christ is (John 14:1-3). Our Hope is to be caught up to meet the Lord in the air and be for ever "with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:16, 17). Our Hope is to be "made like" Him, and this hope will be realized when "we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2). This is the "one hope" of our calling" (Eph. 4:4). This is the only Hope for everything else has failed.
     The hope of Philosophy has failed. Philosophy was the beau-ideal of the ancients. When Greece and Rome were the leading nations of the earth, the goal of every ambitious young man's desire was to become a philosopher. Philosophers were respected and honored by all. Philosophy set out to solve the "riddle of the universe" and to explain the rationale of all creation. It was expected that philosophy would find a solution to every problem and devise a remedy for every ill. But what were its fruits? "The world by wisdom knew not God" (1 Cor. 1:21). When the apostle Paul came to Athens - one of the principal centers of philosophic culture - he found an altar erected to "The Unknown God" (Acts 17:23). The only place the word "philosophy" is found in the Scriptures is in Col. 2:8, where we read "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." Philosophy proved a willo'-the-wisp. Never was philosophy so thoroughly systematized and so ably expounded as it was in the days of Socrates, and never was society more corrupt. The ruins of ancient Greece bear witness to the failure and inadequacy of philosophy.
     The hope of Legislation has failed. It was the dream of the celebrated Plato that he could establish an ideal Republic by compiling and enforcing a perfect code of laws. But a perfect Code of Law was compiled a thousand years before Plato was born. God Himself gave to Israel a Code of Law on Mount Sinai - with what results? No sooner was that Law given than it was broken. The children of Israel declared, "All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient" (Ex. 24:7), but their words were an empty boast. The truth is that imperfect creatures cannot keep a perfect law, nor can imperfect men be induced to administer and enforce it. There is not a land in all the world where all the statutes of the State, or nearly all, are rigidly enforced. What then is the use of electing worthy and able legislators and for them to enact righteous laws if their successors refuse to enforce them? The present universal failure to do this testifies to the impotency of Law while it is left in human hands.
     The hope of human Government has failed. The Roman Empire experimented for many centuries and tried no less than seven different forms of government, but each in turn failed to accomplish the desired effects, and the last state of that Empire was worse than the first. Everything from absolute monarchy to absolute Socialism has already been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Revolting at tyrannical yokes imposed upon their subjects by the European rulers, our forefathers in this country sought to establish a free Republic, a democratic form of government, a government managed by the people and for the people. What have been its fruits? Are economic conditions in the United States better than those in England or Italy? Are relations between Capital and Labour more amicable and satisfactory? Is there less political corruption in high places, and fairer representation of the oppressed? Is there more contentment and satisfaction among the masses? We fear not. When we witness the methods employed in the average political campaign, when we read through the reports of the police courts, when we behold the strikes and lock-outs in every part of the country, when we peer beneath the surface and gaze upon the moral state of the masses, and when we hear the angry cries of the poor laborer and his half-starved family, we discover that the only hope for America as well as Europe is that our Lord shall come back again and take the government upon His shoulder.
     The hope of Civilization has failed. How much all of us have heard of "the march and progress of Civilization' during the past two generations! What an Utopia it was going to create! The masses were to be educated and reformed, injustices were to cease, war was to be abolished, and all mankind welded into one great Brotherhood living together in peace and good will. Civilization was to be the agency for ushering in the long-looked-for Millennium. Any one who dared to challenge the claims made on behalf of the enlightenment of our twentieth century, or called into question the transformation which the upward march of Civilization was supposed to be effecting, was regarded as an "old fogey" who was not abreast of the times, or, as a "pessimist" whose vision was blinded by prejudice. Was not "Evolution" an established fact of science and did not the fundamental principle of Evolution - progress and advancement from the lower to the higher - apply to nations and the human race as a whole, if so, we should soon discover that we had outgrown all the barbarities of the past. War was now no longer to be thought of, for those cultured nations within the magic pale of civilization would henceforth settle their differences amicably by means of arbitration. It was true that the great Powers continued building enormous armies and navies, but these, we were told, would merely be used to enforce Peace. But oh! what a madman's dream it has all proven. The Hope of Civilization, like every other hope which has not been founded upon the sure and certain Word of God, has also proved to be nothing more than an entrancing mirage, a tragic delusion. The great World War, with all its unmentionable horrors, its inhumanities, its barbaric ruthlessness, has rudely wakened a lethargic humanity to the utter insufficiency of all merely human expediencies, and has demonstrated as clearly as anything has ever been demonstrated that "Civilization" is nothing more than a high-sounding but empty title.
     We repeat again, the ONLY hope of the Church is the personal Return of the Redeemer to remove His people from these scenes of misery and bloodshed to be for ever with Himself; and the ONLY hope for this poor sin-cursed and Satan-dominated world is the Second Advent of the Son of Man to rule and reign over the earth in righteousness and peace. This is the world's LAST hope, for every other hope has failed it! We turn now to consider -

[3]In Scripture, "hope" is something more than desire or longing: it is a joyous expectation, a definite assurance. Faith is that which lays hold of God's promises; hope is that spiritual grace which sustains the heart until the promise is "received."

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