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turn from his ways and live ?” God is the fountain of all goodness to be found in man or angel, and so is himself a boundless ocean of goodness. He loves to have poor sinners entertaining these kindly thoughts of him. And well may they do so, even under hard pressures, for God lays not on man more than is meet or right, Job xxxiv. 23; and even this he does with a kind of holy reluctance, for “he doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men,” Lam. iii. 33.
2. A hope of mercy to all their unrighteousness, through Christ. This is the great hope, called the hope of the gospel, Col. i. 23. For it is the main hope purchased by Christ to lost sons of Adam, and held forth to them in the gospel, Heb. viii. 12, “ I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” To cast away this hope, is at once to throw dishonour on the mercy of the Father, and the blood of the Son, and the efficacy of his Spirit; to cast it away, is to please Satan, and to ruin our own souls.
3. A hope of good by their afllictions, trials, and troubles : Rom. viii. 28, “ And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” It is the Lord's ordinary way to bring his people nearer him by afflictions : " Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now have I kept thy word," Psalm cxix. 67; yea, by this way, also, does he bring in those that are strangers to him, Hosea v. 15, “ I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence and seek my face; in their afflictions they will seek me early.” When the Lord will not use a rod upon a person, that is a terrible sign; but there is always hope when the Lord is at pains with a rod; and to hope for this good, is the way to advance it.
4. A hope of support and protection under their afflictions: Heb. xiii. 5, 6, “He hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee; so that we may boldly say, the Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man sball do uoto me.” The Lord can carry persons through deep waters, and yet keep them from sinking, for he is the lifter up of the head. However high the waters swell, they are still under the check of him whom the winds and the seas obey. The everlasting arms underneath, though not seen in the time, secure the sinner from sinking to the ground, and bring him safe ashore. Now, faith and hope is the way to bring in that support.
5. A hope of seasonable relief, on having such deliverance in due time, as shall be best for God's honour and their good : Psalm xlii. 5,“ Why art thou cast down, O my soul! and why art thou disquieted in me? Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance." The Lord has many ways of giving relief from trouble. Sometimes he makes the storm blow off, and restores a calm; sometimes he hides them in the grave, and gives them a blessed exchange, for an afflicted life in this world, a joyful happy life in another world. It becomes us to hope for his mercy, in whatever way he may send it: Heb. x. 35, “ Cast not away your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.”
6. A hope of eternal life in a better world : 1 Pet. i. 13, “ Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end, (for what ?) for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” These hopes will never please God that are confined to the things of this world. He has provided and offers better things to poor sinners; there is a hope laid up for us in heaven, Col. i. 5. While that hope remains firm and well grounded, happy is the soul, whatever be its case; and since he offers it, and makes it over to whosoever will embrace Christ, that hope should never be cast away while we are here.
7. A waiting for the mercy needed and desired : Psalm xxvii. 14, “ Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart : wait, I say, on the Lord." The hoping soul will wait for God, and bear till his time come, however long it may seem to be. He hath the times and seasons in his own band. He knows what is the fittest time for giving a mercy, and we must leave it in his own hand, and wait on him : "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord : behold the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience, till he receive the former and the latter rain; be yo also patient, stablish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh."
Lastly, All this hope is to be grounded only on the free grace of God through Jesus Christ, and the precious promises of the word, held forth to us in him, 1 Pet. i. 13, quoted already. Therefore it is called hope for his mercy : “ Remember thy word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope.” Psalm cxix. 49. If hope be founded on any work or merit in ourselves, or be not bounded by the promise, that is to say, if we hope for what God has not promised, then it cannot be pleasing to him ; so that his hope follows faith’s embracing Christ in the gospel, and resigning the soul to the Lord; which being done, hope goes and stands upon the watch-tower, to behold and wait for all promised good things coming with Christ from God in due timo to the soul.- We now proceed,
III. To shew the necessity of keeping up this holy fear and kindly hope together in all cases. They are necessary to keep an even balance in the soul at all times, ready to fall either to the one hand or the other. God's voice to us, is, Isa. xxx. 21, “This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” But, 0! how apt are we to go off the road, especially if we are obliged to traverse the mountains of darkness and affliction, of desertion and temptation. But this fear and hope will hedge us on every hand, that we turn not to the right hand or to the left; whereas, if either be wanting, there is a wide gape, at which we will readily fall into the mire.—But more particularly,
1. They keep the soul from splittting on rocks on both hands. We are in this world as on a sea, therefore had need to take care. The way we pass is beset with two dangerous rocks; one on the left, despair, where thousands split; another on the right, presumption, where ten thousands have been shipwrecked; some fall on them in a dead calm, they are fearless and careless, and ere they are aware they dash on the rock of presumption, and go to the bottom; Job xxi. 13, “They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave.” To others a storm arises, they are tossed, grow hopeless, and then split on the rock of despair. Whereas holy fear would carry us safe by the one, and kindly hope by the other, whatever storms blow:“Which hope," says Paul, “wo have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the vail," Heb. vi. 19.
2. They keep the heart in a due mean between carnal security and torturing anxiety. Holy fear keeps men awake, while fearless souls are sleeping within the sea-mark of wrath, not knowing when a wave may come and sweep them away. They may be saying, like the rich man, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine rest; eat, drink, and be merry. But God may then say, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee,” Luke xii. 19, 20. Kindly hope composes the heart, and calms the disturbed spirit, while others destitute of it are tormenting themselves. Fear keeps from soaring too high, hope from sinking too low.
3. They keep notably to the duty of praying, which is necessary in all cases, and is a messenger often to be sent to heaven, especially in times of tronble: Psalm 1. 15, “ And call upon me in the day of trouble, I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” Fear stirs up to the duty, hope draws to it. Fear fills the soul with reverenco for God, and makes it to be in deep earnest in its addresses; hopo guards it against terror and confusion in its applications to the throne. Fear caries off presumptuous confidence; but hope makes it hang upon mercy and grace.
4. They help on patience and resignation to the will of God, without which no man is master of himself: Luke xxi. 19, “In your your patience possess your souls.” Hope looks for better things, a calm after a storm ; fear tells us, such a stroke, ill carried, may bring on a worse. Thus the soul is in a holy manner both flattered and frightened into contentment with its lot. Thus it is kept from despising the chastening of the Lord, which many do, with their natural courage, and from fainting under his rebukes, as weak-hearted ones are liable to.
Lastly, They arm us on every hand against our adversary the devil : James iv. 7, “Submit yourselves therefore to God; resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” There are two things, one of which the devil drives at continually : Either, (1.) To go forward with all ease in the way of sin ; for, says the liar, there is no hazard; and thus whole shoals of sinners go on to the pit. But the fear of God will repel this temptation. Or, (2.) Not to offer to return to God, or go to Christ; for, says the murderer, there is no hope. But the kindly hope repels this. By this last he attacks the awakened sinner, and by the former the secure one. Whatever be your case, then, get your souls possessed of this kindly hope and holy fear. Beware of quitting either hope or fear. Are you at ease, and your hope great ? O balance it with fear, lest having too much sail without ballast, ye suddenly be overcast and overwhelmed. Are you in trouble, and your fears great ? O buoy up your souls with hope, lest ye sink altogether. For motives, consider,
1. The want of any of them makes you a prey to your grand enemy, 1 Peter v. 8, “ Be sober, be vigilant, for your adversary the deyil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist stedfast in the faith." Whichever of the avenues of the soul stand open, the enemy will enter by it; and once he get in, you know not what hayoc he may make there. Are you fearless ? he will have his snares fitted for that case. hopeless? be sure he will take his advantage of it.
2. The safety of the soul in this sinful and ensnaring world depends on your entertaining both. The mariner may easier sail the ocean without his compass, the blind man go over bis heights and depths without his guide, than you go through this world without these; for the worst that can befal them is the death of the tody, but your souls will be ruined.
Lastly, The want of either is highly dishonourable to God. Is there a God in heaven, and will you not fear him? Has his Son died to purchase hope to sinners ? and has he declared in his word, that he would liave you hope in and for his mercy, and will ye not
do it? Mal. i. 6, “A son honoureth his father, and a servant liis master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the Lord of hosts." By the want of fear, you declare you value greatness; and by the want of hope, that you can put no trast in his word.— I come now,
IV. To shew what is that pleasure which the Lord takes in such.
1. He approves them in so doing. The Lord says, Thon didst well that it was in thine heart, though Satan may suggest it to be presumption, Psalm cxv. 11, “ Ye that fear the Lord, trust in the Lord; he is their help and their shield.” What God requires to be done, he will surely approve of when it is done, this he requires, and therefore will approve of it.
2. He accepts of them; he is well pleased with the persons that do so. The exercise of these graces is a piece of very acceptable service to God, which he takes off sinners' hands for Christ's sake, though it be attended with many imperfections. That unbelief which remains in the hearts of them that fear God, makes them suspect they will be very unwelcome to hope for good at the Lord's hand; but it is a mistake, for snch exercise is very pleasing to the Lord.
3. The Lord delights in them that do so. Their name may be Hephzibah, for the Lord delighteth in them, as a father does in his child, who both fears him, and hopes for good at his hand.
(1.) The Lord delights in their persons. Jer. xxxi. 20, “Is Ephraim my dear son ? is he a pleasant child ? for since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still, therefore my bowels are troubled for him: I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord.” They are accepted in the beloved; their fear carrying them to Christ, and their hope fixing them upon him as the storehouse of all blessings. Being covered with imputed righteousness, they are all fair and lovely in the eyes of the Lord, there is no spot in them, Song iv. 7.
(2.) He delights in their graces. Song iv. 16, “Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.” Holy fear and liope are the fruits of his own Spirit in the souls of his people, that grow up there as in a garden, being watered with the dew of heaven. They are leading graces, which bring along with them a train of others, all tending to promote holiness in heart and life.
(3.) In their duties. Prov. xv. 8, “ The prayer of the upright is his delight.” Where the fear of the Lord has place, the duties of religion will get room; the soul will be afraid of neglecting to pay its due homage unto the Lord; and hope being joined thereto, will bring them to the Lord with expectation of good at his hand; and this is the Lord's delight.