Abandoning Optimism for Real Hope

Hope is essential. But hope is not a gut reaction, mere wishful thinking or putting a positive spin on events that seem negative. Hope and optimism are positive about the future but for different reasons. Abraham had a spiritual hope that was certain, when a hope that is of the flesh would have evaporated. Abraham “against hope believed in hope” based on God’s promise (Romans 4:18). The secular idea of hope involves people planning ways to achieve their chosen goal. But Abraham couldn’t do this. Optimism ignores negative circumstances but hope takes full account of it. Hope has a reason to depend on God working out the future, that reason is His promise.

It’s been said that we “can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope”. Hope is the oxygen of life. John Nevay (d. 1672) observes that “it is as necessary as breath: we cannot live or work without it”. Nevay was minister of Newmilns in Ayrshire. Along with hundreds of other ministers he was forced out of his charge by the government in 1662. Never was also cited before the Privy Council and then banished from the kingdom for refusing to own Charles II as head over the Church. He went on to minister to Scots exiles in Rotterdam, Holland. Even there, Charles’ government used their influence to try to get him expelled from Holland along with other Scottish ministers.

1. What is Hope?

Hope is a certain and patient expectation of things not seen which are from God and promised by Him (Romans 8:24). Hope, like faith, looks to the promise (Galatians 5:5). Whatever may appear to the contrary, it hopes against hope (Romans 4:18).

Hope rides out all storms. It is the anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast. Its object is God in Christ (Jeremiah 4:8; 1 Timothy 1:1). Its operation is an earnest and patient expectation (Philippians 1:20; Romans 8:25). Its means of strength are the promise and Christ (Acts 26:6; Colossians 1:27). Its effects are establishing and quieting the soul (Psalm 42:5,11). It also purifies the heart (1 John 3:3).

2. What Makes Hope Attractive?

(a) It is an excellent grace. Scripture commends hope as good (2 Thessalonians 2:16); better (Hebrews 7:19); blessed (Titus 2:13); living (1 Peter 1:3); sure and steadfast (Hebrews 6:19). It is a sure possession of things not seen.

(b) It is focussed on excellent things. It is focussed on God Himself (Psalm 33:22); His mercy (Psalm 147:11); God’s Word, especially the promises (Psalm 130:4). It is also focussed on Christ and the gospel (Colossians 1:23).

3. How Does Hope Help Us?

(a) It Helps When No Other Grace Can. When God has withdrawn His presence, David can still hope in God and praise Him (Psalm 42).

(b) It Helps Us Joy and Delight in God. There is a rejoicing in hope (Romans 12:12 and Hebrews 3:6).

(c) It Helps Us Be Encouraged. It does not disappoint or put us to shame (Romans 5:5).

(d) It Helps Us Have Courage and Strength in God’s Work. The knowledge that labouring in the Lord’s work is not in vain is the knowledge of hope, which gives steadfastness (1 Corinthians 15:58).

(e) It Helps us Have Patience. There is a patient waiting for Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:5). Patience makes us rest quietly on God (Psalm 37:7).

(f) It Helps Us Endure All Spiritual Warfare. It is the helmet of salvation which guards and raises the head (Ephesians 6:17).

(g) It Helps Us Find Help in God. Hope makes us take refuge in God. Hope and help in God go together (Psalm 146:5).

(h) It Helps Us Hope for Heaven. Salvation and eternal life come to us by the hope of salvation and eternal life (1 Thessalonians 5:8). It is the hope laid up in heaven (Colossians 1:5).

(i)It Helps Us in Life and Death. We can see the excellence and blessedness of this hope when we consider the misery of those who live and die without it. To be without God is to be without hope in this world (Ephesians 2:12).

3. Where Does Hope Come From?

(a) It Comes From God. David credits God for his hope (Psalm 22:9).

(b) It Comes From God by Grace. Hope is from and through grace (2 Thessalonians 2:16). That which is of grace is by the promise (Romans 4:16; Titus 1:2). Our God is the God of Hope because He is the giver of Hope (Romans 15:13). Hope is amongst the gifts of the Holy Spirit (compare l Corinthians 12:31 with 13:13).

(c) It Comes From Christ. Christ is our Hope and the Author of Hope as well as Faith (Galatians 5:5; Hebrews 12:2). Christ was raised from the dead and exalted that we might have hope (1 Peter 1:21).

(d) It Comes From the Gospel. The gospel as the grace of God brings a better hope (Hebrews 7:19; Titus 2:11).

4. What Distinguishes True Hope?

(a) It Looks to God Alone. God alone is our hope and portion (Lamentations 3:24).

(b) It Trusts in Christ Alone. It places no confidence in the flesh but rejoices in
Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:3). Its expectation is only in free mercy.

(c) It is Certain. It leans on the undoubted truths of God revealed in the Scriptures. These bring comforts and are the grounds for the Christian’s hope (Romans 15:4). It is true that the believer’s hope may be shaken (as anchors often are) but the result is that it is fastening more securely than before.

(d) It Keeps the Soul Close to the Truth. This is so even during great opposition by others (Psalm 119:23, 81-82, 161; Isaiah 8:17).

(e) It Expels Vain Hopes. It presents the things it hopes for as so great that it makes all other hopes seem an empty thing. It purges the heart from all its love and desire for vain hopes.

(f) It Revives the Soul. It revives the soul with fresh strength in God when other things fail (Psalm 73:26).

(g) It is Lasting. It is sober and hopes to the end (1 Peter 1:13). Thus, the righteous has hope in his death (Proverbs 14:32).

(h) It Arises from Spiritual Experience. A rooted and well-grounded hope is the daughter of many different spiritual experiences (Romans 5:4).

 

Nevay’s 52 sermons on the Covenant of Grace are well summarised by Edwin Nisbet Moore in the book Our Covenant Heritage: the Covenanters’ Struggle for Unity in Truth. It also summarises a memoir of the Covenanter James Nisbet of Hardhill and draws lessons from the historical experiences for today. For more information and to purchase see here.

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Matthew Vogan is the General Manager at Reformation Scotland Trust. He has written various books including volumes about Samuel Rutherford and Alexander Shields.

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