At the lowest point: hope

This year 2020 is a low year in the life of American Christians in so many ways. I will not enumerate them here, because we all know it, but we have different perspectives on how bad things are, and on what exactly is making them bad, and by enumerating them I would necessarily convey my own perspective on our current state. If you know me, you already know that, and whether you do or not, what I want to share with you this morning is not my particular perspective on the trouble we are in but rather something about what we are to do when we perceive that we are in deep trouble.

I stumbled across this passage this morning from John Collinges, Several Discourses Concerning the Actual Providence of God (London, 1678). Collinges was an English Presbyterian clergyman and writer in the seventeenth century. His book is available online for viewing or download.

The section I am looking at is from Sermon 16, one sermon in a series on Psalm 107:34, “Whoso is wise and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord.”

Collinges (page 204) observes: “The Providence of God, in the fulfilling of the words, both of promise, and of threatning, doth ordinarily fulfil the first, when the people of God are at the lowest; and the latter, when his Enemies are at the highest.” Elaborating (page 205) on the first case: “For the Promises: I say, you shall observe, It is the ordinary method of Divine Providence, to bring them to an accomplishment upon the Church and people of God, when they are at the lowest in all humane appearance; in the lowest state of dejection, in the lowest degree of affliction; when they are lowest as to their outward state, lowest as to their hopes.”

Skipping down to page 216, we find Collinges, after exploring various biblical illustrations, getting around to drawing his conclusions regarding “the duty of a child of God in his lowest state, or in the lowest state of the Church and people of God.” These are (1) to glory in tribulation; (2) to learn patience; (3) to exercise faith; and (4) to exercise hope. He goes in then, to add, (5) “fervent, and constant prayer.”

But I want to cite his elaboration of the fourth duty, hope. I am interested in particular in his distinction between faith and hope and in his take on what to do where there appear to be no grounds for hope. Lovers of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings will recall that noble hobbits, when there is no more hope, go on without hope.

Collinges would revise: When there is no visible basis for hope, Christians must hope anyway.

The paragraph I want to share with you (which spans pages 217–18) is in the photograph, but since it may be difficult to read, I will transcribe. I have broken the one long paragraph into five but changed nothing else.

Fourthly, As this calleth to the people of God for faith in the Promise, so it calls to them for hope: Faith and Hope are so near of kin, that they are oft put one for another. Indeed, Hope is nothing else but Faith looking out at the windows of the soul, in expectation of the coming of the thing believed.

There is an hope, that worketh upon the encouragements of sense, when the mercy hoped for is seen coming in a way of probable means: but there is an Hope that proceedeth merely upon the Evidence of Faith, when the Soul hopeth for some good thing, but seeth no encouragement from any sensible thing: the former is but a natural affection working upon an absent probable good; This latter is a supernatural habit, and an exercise of grace.

The Apostle [here Collinges alludes to Romans 4:18] calls it an hoping against hope; or a believing in hope against hope. This is that I am calling to you for: This is that which keepeth the heart alive in the deadest time. We use to say, If it were not for hope (under evils) the heart would break.

Faith is the acquiescence of the Soul in the Word: Hope is the motion of the Soul consequent to this acquiescence. Faith saith, the thing is sure; Hope seeth it coming, and relieveth the Soul with that. Hope is the Souls watchman. The Soul cryes out, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? Hope saith, The morning is coming.

Now this Observation advantageth Hope; It assures you, that God is coming at Midnight. When you see these things come to pass (saith our Saviour, Luke 21.28) lift up your heads, for the day of your redemption draweth nigh. It has reference to all that went before, where our Saviour had been telling them of the great Evils that were to precede his coming. Now, saith our Saviour, when you see things at this miserable, despicable pass; then lift up your heads.

Why is this important to remember? For many reasons. Among them: hope is not an end in itself; it leads to other things.

Hope’s opposite or absence is named despair, and despair is, as Kierkegaard taught us, the sickness unto death. Despair, as we can observe all around us, bears such fruit as Paul lists in Galatians 5:21 as “works of the flesh”: “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions.”

But hope, which is an affection understood as “faith looking out at the windows of the soul” and is an operation of the Spirit and bears the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

2 thoughts on “At the lowest point: hope

  1. Thanks. So needed. Like fresh water in a dry, thirsty land. Hope rests in a faith that is the evidence of what is unseen; evidence that is not data-driven, but character-driven: the divine. faithful, active benevolence of our Almighty Father who wipes away our terrified, angry, confused and frustrated tears, assuring us, “I’ve got this. I have this well in hand. . . though I know, to you, it does not look like it at all.” Writing this I am suddenly reminded of C.S. Lewis’s epiphany following the death of his beloved Joy. At the end of a brutal, wrenching sorrow that seemed interminable, what he heard was something strangely like a chuckle. Not the cruel sound of taunting dismissal, but a counter-intuitive assurance that if he could only see what was at yet hidden, he would be able to, if not laugh, certainly to rest in hope.

    Liked by 1 person

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