Ralph Erskine Archive

Ralph Erskine

SERMON LVIII.


-HEARERS HAVE A FIRM GROUND FOR FAITH AND HOPE IN THE WORST OF TIMES.

This subject was opened up in two discourses, at a sacramental woke at
Orwell, on the Saturday and Sabbath, the 5th and 6th August, 1738.

Who against hope, believed in hope.” Romans 4:18.

My friends, faith and hope are precious and excellent graces; but many only make a boast of them. They that can speak lightly of faith, and swear by their faith; sure they declare they are strangers unto faith; and they that can speak lightly of hope, saying (as the common bye-word is), I hope in his mercy; they surely seem to be very great strangers to this faith and hope of Abraham’s. There is a mystery of faith and a mystery in hope; and indeed, sirs, we never begin to hope till we are hopeless. We never begin to hope till we begin to despair; to despair of help from ourselves, and from all creatures, and all things in the world. Here is a strange battle between hope and hope: Here is a hope against hope: here is, as it were, the fixing of the anchor of faith and hope upon the very gulf of despair. He against hope believed in hope.

The doctrine I noticed yesterday was (Sermon LVII), That unto sinners who have the gospel, of a promising God in Christ, sounding in their ears, there is ground of faith and hope in the most desperate and hopeless-like cases.

The method laid down was, 1. To prove and confirm the doc­trine by a few remarks. 2. To enquire into the nature of faith and hope. 3. To mention some of these hopeless and desperate-like cases, and yet a firm ground for faith and hope remain. 4. To enquire what ground of hope there is in the most hopeless and desper­ate-like cases. 5. Apply the subject.

What remains to be spoken to, is the fourth head, namely, En­quire what ground there is for faith and hope in the most hopeless and desperate-like cases.

Sirs, it is the great business of the preachers of the gospel to open a door of hope, and to call persons to believe and hope in the Son of God, and to hope in the mercy of God through him. I would touch at some of these grounds—1. More generally; 2. More particularly. And,

1st, More generally, there is ground for faith and hope to all sinners, if you consider these six things.

1. Is it not ground of hope, in the first place, that an all-suffi­cient Saviour is offered to you? that his blood is able to cleanse from all sin? O Sirs, is not this a door opened for you, sinners?

2. It is ground of hope, not only that this Saviour is all-sufficient, and his blood able to wash away all your sin and guilt; but you have a right to plead upon this blood. It is true, indeed, the former ground of hope, viz., the all-sufficiency of the blood and righteousness of Jesus, we can say his blood is able to cleanse a thousand worlds; yea, it has intrinsic excellency to save all the devils in hell, were it not hedged in by the decree of election: they have no right to it; no, by no means; it is to you, O man, woman, that the word of salvation is sent: “To you, O men, do I call, and my voice is to the sons of men.” You have ground to plead on this blood. “Christ took not on him the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham:” therefore you may plead for pardon and salva­tion upon this blood of Jesus.

3. It is ground of hope to all sinners, who hear the gospel that the mercy of God vents through this blood of Jesus; and that the grace of God reigns through this righteousness unto eternal life. O Sirs, is there no ground of faith and hope here that the mercy of God vents through this blood, and vents to the honor of justice? Justice is satisfied by the blood of Jesus: his wrath is appeased, so that God can be merciful to you, and yet be just; “He is just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.” Why, “He hath set forth Christ to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood.”

4. There is another door of hope opened to you, sinners, in this gospel, that the Lord Jesus Christ is both able and willing to save sinners. He is not only able, being the mighty God; but he is willing, being the Prince of peace. And he is declaring his willing­ness by his calls, by his invitations, and by his commands to you that believe: “This is his command, that you believe.” O then, Sirs, why do you doubt of the love and good pleasure of God? Here is the command of God that you believe; that you believe on him, and come to him for life and salvation. 0! do not declare your enmity against him who is, in the gospel, declaring his good­will to you. But again,

5. There is ground of hope to all sinners who hear this gospel, that God hath sealed Christ to be a Saviour for sinners; “Him hath God the Father sealed.” Christ has not only ability to save; but he has authority to save: he has his Father’s authority to save. It is in the name and authority of his Father that he is coming and courting you to him: “Him hath God the Father sealed. He hath sealed him to be a Prophet, to teach ignorant souls; he hath sealed him to be a Priest, to deliver enslaved souls; he hath sealed him to be a King, to deliver souls from sin and Satan. God hath sealed him to be a Saviour; why, then, it cannot be against God, that you come to him for salvation; no, you cannot do God so much honor as to come to a Saviour. He hath sealed him with a super-eminent unction of the Holy Ghost, and anointed him to those offices of saving sinners. Is there no ground of hope here?

6. Here is ground of hope, that the Lord Jesus, who sealed the covenant with his blood, hath made an assignation of all the bene­fits of the new covenant unto sinners in the visible church: “To them belongs the covenants and the promises.” They have a sealed right thereunto; a right that God hath given to sinners in the visible church, as such: therefore he has allowed all the members of the visible church to be baptized. They could not have a right to any of the seals of the covenant of promise, if they had not some right to the covenant itself. I say, God has made an assignation to the visible church, of all the benefits of the new covenant: they are among your hands; O Sirs, take what belongs to you. My friends, has not salvation come near you, when it is in your hands? Is there no ground of hope here? You may take hold of any promise in all the Bible, because it is sealed by the blood of Christ; it comes freely to you, because it was dearly bought by the blood of him who is God. Therefore all the promises come freely to you. Here then is ground of hope to all sinners, who hear this gospel, in the most hopeless and desperate-like cases. But I come,

Secondly, To lay before you some more particular grounds and reasons, why all persons ought against hope to believe in hope.

1. Everything in God, as he manifests himself in Jesus Christ, is ground of hope. The Christ of God, is ground of hope: he is the hope of Israel. He is the hope of the church of God: he is the hope of all his people and poor sinners may build upon him; for everything in him is ground of hope. His incarnation is ground of hope; “To you is born, in the city of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” O his doing and dying is ground of hope; he died to bring us to God. His resurrection is ground of hope; for, “He rose again for our justification:” and by his resurrection he declared himself to be the Son of God with power; by which he declared his righteousness to be a sufficient righteousness. Again, Christ’s ascending is a glorious ground of hope: “By him,” says Peter, “we believe in God, who raised him from the dead, that our faith and hope might be in God.” The very reason why God raised him from the dead, and ascended gloriously, was that our faith and hope might be in him. Here is a Saviour that was dead, but is now alive and liveth for evermore; and has the keys of hell and death. O Sirs, the Christ of God is ground of hope; a door of hope is opened, if you look to the offices of Christ. Oh his prophetical office says there is ground of hope for poor ignorant sinners. Oh! his priestly office says there is ground of hope for poor guilty sin­ners. Oh his kingly office is ground of hope, for slaves to sin and Satan, because he is a King that braises the head of the serpent. Again,

2. In the second place, as in the Christ of God, so all the pro­mises are ground of hope: they are calculate[d] for the cases and necessities of poor sinners. They are a ground of faith and hope, they being all yea and amen in Christ Jesus. O Sirs, observe as I said before, the covenant consists of promises: what does God, think you, by those promises? He puts himself, and all the bless­ings of the covenant, in these promises, that we may lay hold upon him. There the infinite invisible God comes as near as it is possible for him to come. Since we cannot see an invisible God, he comes, as it were, to our hand in the promises, that we may take him up there. He puts himself in a promise, saying, “I will be thy God.” I will put my Spirit in a promise: “I will put my Spirit in you.” He puts his justifying grace in a promise: “I, even I, am he that blottsth out thy transgressions, for mine own name’s sake.” He puts sanctification in the promises: “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes.” He puts all the blessings in the promises, that we may believe and hope in him, as a promising God. What want you, that is not in the promises? “If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men after me.” There is power to believe the promise promised. Faith is not of yourselves, but the gift of God promised: If you want repentance, he puts it in the promise: “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and shall mourn. He is exalted as a prince, to give repentance, and the remission of sins.” He puts all the graces in the promise: “I will circumcise their hearts to love me.” He puts grace and glory in the promise. But, again,

3. Another ground of hope is the presence of God, his promised presence. He is not far off, or at a distance; he is near in the word of grace and promise. We need not say, “Who will go up to heaven to bring him down? He is near in the word that we preach.” His name is the great Immanuel, God with us. O Sirs, say not he is far off. There are many promises of his presence that faith and hope have to rely on: “There is a river, the streams whereof do make glad the city of God.” He hath said, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”

4. The providence of God is another ground of hope; there­fore we ought to cast our care upon him, who careth for us. We ought to consider his special providences towards his church and people, in all ages, that so they may be a prop and pillar to faith and hope. When Adam fell from a state of innocency, into a hor­rible pit, and brought himself and all his posterity to misery; O then, how did the promise come? “The seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent.” And when Israel was in the greatest thralldom, how did providence appear in their delivery? And when the Jews were like to be destroyed by Haman, how did providence appear for them? And when Christ, the glorious head of the church, was laid in the grave, then the church’s hope seemed to be gone: Yes, but in this case was the greatest appearance of providence. As it was with the head, so shall it be with the members.

5. The blood and righteousness of Jesus is another ground of hope. The blood of Jesus is the blood of God; and the righteous­ness of Jesus is the righteousness of God. O here is the founda­tion for faith and hope. It is an everlasting righteousness, and a law-magnifying righteousness; it is a justice-satisfying righteous­ness; it is strength-furnishing righteousness: it is like the money that answers all things; because it is the righteousness of God. O Sirs, here is a strong foundation for faith and hope; so strong a foundation, that we may not only build on it, but were there ten thousand worlds, here they might build upon this foundation. Here is a door of hope.

6. The oath of God is another ground of hope; the oath, by which his word of promise is confirmed: so that all that venture to it, may have sufficient ground of hope: “He hath sworn by two immutable things, whereby it is impossible for God to lie.” O! is not this security to the faith of the church of God? When God says the word, and gives his promise, that is good enough; but, O Sirs, is it not still more, when he confirms his word by his oath; when he has sworn by his holiness? “Once have I sworn by my holiness, that I will not lie unto David.” It is the oath of God, not only to us, but to a better hand; it is the oath of God to Christ: “I have sworn by myself.” When God swears by himself, he can swear by no greater; for then he swears by all his glorious attri­butes and perfections, that the covenant shall stand fast, to all that flee by faith to him. O Sirs, this is sure ground of hope.

7. The name of God is ground of hope. Why, Sirs, he is pleased in his word to make his name the greatest argument for which sinners may plead with him: accordingly we find many saints, saying, “O pardon us, for thy name’s sake. For thy name’s sake blot out iniquity:” O Sirs, if we build our faith and hope upon the honor of his name, he will surely do for his name’s sake.

8. The glory of God is ground of faith; not only his name, but the glory of his name: “For thy name’s glory help us.” You may build your faith and hope upon the glory of his name, because his name cannot be glorified greater than in the way of saving sinners through Jesus Christ; therefore we are to build our faith and hope upon the glory of his name; if we build our faith and hope here, Sirs, to be sure he will not let his glory fall. O! he will glorify himself. O happy they who get their salvation thus secured, by building on the glory of his name.

9. The mercy of God is ground of hope, as it vents itself through Christ Jesus: “Mercy shall be built up for ever.”
10. The truth and faithfulness of God is ground of hope. This truth and faithfulness is called a shield and buckler to us.

11. Not only are the attributes ground of hope, but the spirituality of God is ground of hope; for his words are spirit and life. And, indeed, the more spiritually we view any promise, the more sweetly do we view it.

12. The infinity of God is ground of hope being infinite in wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. We may’ soon be non-pulsed, but nothing can non-pulse infinite Wisdom: therefore we may, against hope, believe in hope

13. I may add, the eternity of God is ground of hope; that he is the eternal God, he puts that in the promise: “The eternal God is thy refuge. God endures for ever.” All the world is waxing old as a garment, as it were out of fashion; but his children and servants shall continue forever. The eternity of God is ground of hope, for there is eternal happiness in him.

Again, the unchangeableness of God is ground of hope; “Be­cause he is God, and changes not, the sons of Jacob are not con­sumed.”

I may add, the personality of God is ground of hope, whether we consider him jointly or separately. If we consider the person­ality of God jointly, as three persons speaking in the plural num­ber, there we find them speaking so in the work of creation: “Come, let us make man after our own image.” I’ll tell you a text, wherein they speak so in the work of redemption, in carrying on the work of salvation, “We will make the borders of gold with studs of silver,” (Song 1:11). We, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; we will begin the work, and we will carry it on; we will do so and so; or, if we consider them separately, it is ground of hope for communion with God. We have the Father’s love discovered in contriving; and we have the love of the Holy Ghost set before us, as the great applier of redemption work. In this light we have the order of communion set before us, as you see it expressed; “For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father,” (Eph. 2:18). Here is the order of communion with God: we have communion with the Father, in the Son, and by the Holy Ghost. So communion with God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is a door of hope opened to all of us.

Again, The matchlessness of God is ground of hope: his be­ing a non-such God in Christ. O sirs, are you saying, there is no sinner like me, my case is a matchless case? But, 0! is there any God like him? He is a matchless God. O sirs, here is ground of hope; the very being of a God, as a God that quickeneth the dead, is ground of hope; yea, faith and hope can center nowhere but in a living God, and in the life of God.

These are some of the grounds of faith and hope; and I shall reckon it a sore matter, if none in this great assembly can see a door of faith and hope opened to them. Since there is a door of faith and hope opened, O then go in by this door.

V. I go on to the application. O that the Lord would make application of it. Is it so, sirs, that in this gospel there is a firm ground of hope, even in the most hopeless and desperate-like cases. Then, for information,

1. Hence we may see, airs, what is the reason that God does, in his holy providence, bring his church and people, many times, into hopeless and desperate-like cases. O sirs, the reason is, that we may despair of help and hope anywhere else, that they may hope only in God; therefore he orders matters so, in his providence, or in some circumstances about his people, that you may place your hope only in him that can help in desperate-like cases: “For we have the sentence of death, that we may not trust in our­selves, but in him who raised Christ from the dead,” (1 Cor. 1:8). O sirs, some are brought to very dismal straits, very great difficulties; they are ready to say, O! what is it that God designs to do with me? They think God is about to slay them, or destroy them; or that the Lord has some ill design against them. No, man; but his design is, that when you see your case hopeless and desperate, you go to God, and trust in him. “We have the sentence of death in ourselves that we may not trust to ourselves, but to God.”

2. Hence we may see that the people of God ought not to murmur against God, when he brings them to straits and difficulties; to such cases as seem hopeless end desperate. O! do not murmur against God. O! sirs, do not object he hath an ill design against you; his design is to drive you to himself; to make you cast the anchor of faith upon a sure foundation, even God himself. In the 20th chapter of Judges, the children of Israel are allowed to go out against the tribe of Benjamin to battle, and God is consulted in the matter; and God bids them go, and yet they are smitten before the Benjaminites. O! then they go to God weeping, and cry, “Shall we go and fight against our brethren?” Yes, says God; well, they go a second time, and they are worsted by them, and the battle goes against them. What was the design of this providence? One would think the design was to destroy them. O no, no; it was that he might avenge himself more remarkably in the third battle; they go forth the third time, and they are destroyed before them.

A second use may be by way of trial and examination. And seeing, sirs, it is so, as I have been saying, that even in the most hopeless and desperate-like cases, we have a sure ground for faith and hope, in a God in Christ, as it was with Abraham, who against hope, believed in hope, let us try whether we have any faith like Abraham’s. Every believer has not the same trials and difficulties, and so does not need the same strong faith; yet true faith is still acted in the same way, in the same parallel cases, that may have some reference to Abraham’s faith; try it therefore by these few things.

1. Then, if we have any faith like Abraham’s faith, then, sirs, you will only be satisfied with Christ. Will you tell me, are you satisfied with Christ only? Do all things else fail you? Do you think Christ a heaven upon earth? Can you think Christ righteousness and strength to you? O sirs, can you think yourselves right enough with Christ, though you should want all things in the world, like Habakkuk? “Though the fig-tree should not blossom, and there be no fruit in the vine, &c. Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.” Enquire then, if you can be satisfied with Christ alone. There are few, sirs, can be so; there is something in the world gives them satisfaction; take away that, and Christ cannot satisfy them. O try it, if you be satisfied with Christ alone. Can you say, “O whom have I in heaven, but thee? and there is none upon the earth that I desire besides thee.”

2. If your faith has anything like Abraham’s in the nature of it, try it by this, Can you live upon an absent God? Can you live upon a God in Christ, even in desertion? Can you believe in an angry God, a God whom you have sinned against, whom you have offended and provoked? Can you believe in an angry God, even when he may be expressing his displeasure in his providences against you? Can you go to this God, and put your confidence in him? Can you believe in him, when you are not able to claim your relation to him? are you then claiming your relation to the Son of God, though he may be hiding himself? Why, Sirs, this is something like the faith Christ expressed on the cross; “My God, my God; why hast thou forsaken me?” Forsaken me! and yet my God. Sirs, the relation to God may be maintained by the soul, even when it finds he is away. O can you claim a relation to a forsaken God? That is something like the faith of Abraham, “Who, against hope, believed in hope.”

3. Enquire if you can stop your ears to the voice of sense and reason. This Abraham did, when he was called to consider the ground and object of his faith, viz., the power of God. We are told, “He considered not the deadness of his own body, nor the deadness of Sarah’s womb:” he stopped his ears at carnal sense and reason. Are you then able to stop your ears at carnal sense and reason, and open your ears to what God says, as a promising God? This faith is some way like the faith of Abraham.

4. Can you set the arguments of faith against all the arguments of sense and reason, viz., the power of God? “Once, yea twice, have I heard, that power belongs to the Lord.” Set the argument of faith against all the tossings of unbelief.

I come now to close with a word of exhortation; and it shall be but a short word.

Is it so, Sirs, that sinners that hear the gospel, have a sure foundation for faith and hope, even in the most hopeless and des­perate-like cases? Then the call to all sinners who hear this gospel is Imitate Abraham, “Who, against hope, believed in hope.” Let sinners do it; and let believers do it more and more, by following the footsteps of the father of the faithful more and more, “Who, against hope, believed in hope.” Sirs, this is the call of God that we ought to glorify, by a strong faith. Employ the omnipotence of God against unbelief; for, indeed, Sirs, true faith has no power at all, but the power of God: it has nothing to live upon, but the fullness and righteousness of Christ, and God in a promise, a God in covenant.

Objection 1: O, but why do you essay to persuade me to believe, and hope in Jesus; for my case is not only a hopeless and despe­rate-like case, but I seem to be given up to the power of sin. I think God has given me up to the power of my lusts; iniquity prevails against me: Sin not only dwells in me but, I think, it reigns in me.

Answer: O man! thinkest thou this is a hopeless case? Well, but is there not hope in Israel, as long as God calls you? Your very complaint is ground of hope: “Iniquity prevails against me, says David; but as for our transgressions, thou wilt purge them away.” Why, there is ground, against hope, to believe in hope; for though iniquity prevails against you, yet God has promised to purge away iniquity. There we are called to believe in this pro­mising God.

Objection 2: But, O my case is hopeless, in respect I think God does not hear my prayers.

Answer: You may find your case paralleled, (Lam. 3:8), the church cries there, “When I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer.” But yet you will find her saying, “It is good for me to hope, and wait for the salvation of God,” (v. 26).

Objection 3: But, O is not my case a desperate-like case, for God is against me in his providences, and my corruption is irritated by the cross? And is there any hope in this case?

Answer: Even in this case, you are called against hope to believe in hope. There is a parallel case in Isaiah 57:17: “For the ini­quity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him; yet he went on frowardly, in the way of his own heart.” There is corruption irritated by the cross; God smote him in his providenc.es; and yet he went on frowardly. Well, was the case hopeless? No: See what follows, “I have seen his ways, and will heal him.” O! see what wonderful condescension! “I have seen his ways and will heal him. O! let Israel hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy.”

Objection 4: But, O is not my case hopeless, when I find no manner of probability of my being saved and pardoned?

Answer: This is a limiting of the holy One of Israel; “Why sagest thou, O Jacob: and speakest, O Israel? My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known Hast thou not heard, that the ever-lasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?” (Isa. 40: 27).

Objection 5: But, O say you, my case is yet more hopeless; why, I essay to use means, and yet all means prove unsuccessful; and I am worse: and is not that a hopeless case? These means that are useful to others; these means, instead of being helpful to me, are hurtful to me. The ordinances that are full to others are dry breasts to me.

Answer: O, Sirs, this would indeed be a hopeless and desperate case, were it not for the grounds of hope we have been speaking of. But you have a parallel case in Exodus 2, God calls Moses to de­liver Israel; but instead of their being delivered, their bondage is increased, things made against them. Do you find nothing by the means of grace? Wait on God, who is the hope of Israel, when you are going to a communion table.

Objection 6: But, O is not my case a hopeless-like case? I have gone to a communion table sometimes; I have found myself worse when I have been there. O then, would you encourage such an one to believe and hope? I have sinned against him; and sinned fearfully against him. I have been worsted by the enemy; I am just a trophy of the victory of the devil: and do you call me to be­lieve and hope?

Answer: Yes; though thou art a backslider, the call of God is to you to return; “Return, O backsliding children; for I am married to you.” O poor soul, return to him. Will you tell me, will you be the better of standing away at a distance from Christ? is it not better to perish in Christ’s hand, than in the hands of the devil?

Objection 7: O! says one, is not my case a hopeless case? I am now in the very belly of hell, as it were; and is there any hope in this case?

Answer: Yes: Jonah says, chapter 2:2, “Out of the belly of hell I cried to the Lord; and he heard me out of his holy temple,” (v. 4). O then, look again to God’s holy temple.

Objection 8: O! is not this a hopeless case? I see there is no favor from sense and reason to me; all arguments from the com­mon sense of the world contradicts my hope.

Answer: Why, man, is that your case? Then it is just equal to Abraham’s in the text, “who against hope, believed in hope.” O Sirs, look to God to answer all objections raised by unbelief, that you may glorify God by them all; and so against hope, believe in hope.

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