"That ye may know what is the hope of his calling."—Fph. i. 18.
MAN'S prayers for others are a very fair thermometer of his own religious condition. What he asks for them will largely indicate what he thinks best for himself; and how he asks it will show the firmness of his own faith and the fervour of his own feeling. There is nothing colder than the intercession of a cold Christian; and, on the other hand, in no part of the fervid Apostle Paul's writings do his words come more winged and fast, or his spirit glow with greater fervour of affection and holy desire, than in his petitions for his friends.
In that great prayer of which my text forms a part we have his response to the good news that had reached him of the steadfastness in faith and abundance in love of these Ephesian Christians. As the best expression of his glad love he asks for them the knowledge of three things, of which my text is the first, and the other two are the "riches of the glory of the inheritance" and "the exceeding greatness of God's power."
Now if we take the "hope" in my text, as is often done, as meaning the thing hoped for, there seems to be but a shadowy difference between the first and the second of these subjects of the apostolic petition. Whereas, if we take it as meaning, not the object on which the emotion is fixed, but the emotion itself, then all the three stand in a natural gradation and connection. We have, first, the Christian emotion; then the object upon which it is fixed: "the glory of the inheritance "; then the power by which the latter is bought and the former is realized. We shall consider the second and third of these petitions in subsequent sermons. For the present I confine myself to this first one, the Apostle's great desire for Christians who had already made considerable progress in the Christian life, "that they may know," by experiencing it, "what is the hope of His calling."
I.—Now the first thought that these words suggest to me is this, that the Christian hope is based upon the facts of Christian experience.
What does the Apostle mean by naming it "the hope of His calling "? He means this, that the great act of the Divine mercy revealed to us in the Gospel, by which God summons and invites men to Himself, will naturally produce in those who have yielded to it a hope of immortal and perfect life. Because God has called men, therefore the man who has yielded to the call may legitimately, and must, if he is to do his duty, cherish such a hope. It is clear enough that this is so, inasmuch as, unless there be a heaven ot completeness for us who have yielded to the summons and obeyed the invitation of God in His Gospel, His whole procedure is enigmatical and bewildering; the fact of the call is inexplicable; the cost of it is no less so. It was not worth while for God to make the world unless with respect to another which was to follow. It was still less worth His while to redeem the world if the results of that redemption, as they are exhibited here and now, and as they are capable of being exhibited in this present condition of things, are all that are to flow from it. It was not worth Christ's while to die, it was not worth God's while to send His Son, there was no sense and consistency in that great voice that echoes from heaven, calling us to love and serve Him, unless, beyond the jangling contradictions, and imperfect attainments, and foiled aspirations, and fragmentary faith, and broken services of earth, there be a region of completeness, where all that was tendency here shall have become effect; and all that was but in germ here, and sorely frostbitten by the ungenial climate, and shrivelled by the foul vapours in the atmosphere, shall blossom and bourgeon into eternal life. The Christian life, as it is to-day, in its attainments and imperfections, is at once the witness of the reality of the power that has produced it, and clamantly calls for a sphere and environment in which that power shall be able to produce the effects which it is capable of producing.
God is "not a man that He should lie, nor the son of man that He should repent." Men begin grand designs which never get further than the paper that they are drawn on; or they build a porch, and then they are bankrupt, or change their minds, or die, and the palace remains unrealized, and all that pass by mock and say, " This man began to build and was not able to finish." But God's designs are certain of accomplishment. The design that lies in the calling, unless we are to be reduced to a state of utter intellectual bewilderment and confusion, and forego our belief in His veracity and resources to execute His designs, must needs lead on to the realm of perfectness. If we consider the agent by which it is effected, even the risen Christ; if we consider the cost at which it was accomplished, even the death on the Cross, tbe mission of His Son, and His assumption of the limitations of an incarnate life; if we consider the manifest potencies of the power that He has brought into operation in the present Christian life; and if we consider, side by side with these, the stark, staring contradictions and manifest inevitable limitations of the effects of that power, His calling carries in its depths the assurance that what He means shall be done, that Jesus Christ has not died in vain, that He has not ascended to fill a solitary throne, but is the Firstfruits of a great harvest; and that we shall one day be all that it is in the gospel of our salvation to make us, unhindered by the limitations and unthwarted by the antagonisms of this poor, human life of ours. Unless there be a heaven in which all desires shall be satisfied, all evils removed, all good perfected, all ragged trees made symmetrical and full-grown, and all souls that love Him radiant with His own perfect image, then the light that seemed a light from heaven is the most delusive of all the marsh-fires of earth, and nothing in the illusions of sense or of men's cunning is so cruel or so tragic as the calling that seemed to be the voice of God, and summoned us to a heaven which was only a dream. II.—And so, secondly, notice how this hope of our
text is in some sense the very topstone of the Christian life.
Paul has heard concerning these people in Ephesus, of their faith and love. And because he has heard of these, therefore he offers this prayer. These two, the faith which apprehends the manifestations of God, in Jesus Christ, and the love which that faith produces in the heart that accepts the revelation of the infinite love, are crowned by, and are imperfect without, and naturally lead on to, the brightness of this great hope. Faith—the reliance of the spirit upon the veracity of the revealing God—gives hope its contents, for the Christian hope is not spun out of our own imaginations, nor is it the mere making objective in a future life of the unfulfilled desires of this disappointing present, but it is the recognition by the trusting spirit of the great and starry truths that are flashed upon it by the Word of God. Faith draws back the curtain, and hope gazes into the supernal abysses. My hope, if it be anything else than the veriest will-o'-thewisp and delusion, is the answer of my heart to the revealed truth of God.
Similarly the love which flows from faith not only necessarily leads on to the expectation of union being perfected with the object of its warm affection, but also so works upon the heart and character as that the false and seducing loves which draw away, like some sluice upon a river, the current of life from its true channel, are all sanctified and no more hinder hope. Loving we hope for that which, unless we loved, would not draw desires nor yield foretastes of sweetness which, like perfumed oil, feed the pure flame of hope.
The triad of Christian graces is completed by Hope. Without her fair presence something is wanted to the completeness of her elder sisters. The great Campanile at Florence, though it be inlaid with glowing* marbles and fair sculptures, and perfect in its beauty, wants the gilded skyward-pointing pinnacle of its topmost pyramid; and so it stands incomplete. And thus faith and love need for their crowning and completion the topmost grace that looks up to the sky and is sure of a mansion there.
Brethren, our Christianity is wofully imperfect unless faith and love find their acme, their upstretching completion, in this Christian hope. Do you seek to complete your faith and love by a living hope full of immortality?
III.—Thirdly, notice how this hope is an all-important element in the Christian life.
The Apostle asks for it as the best thing that can befall these Ephesian Christians, as the one thing that they need to make them strong and good and blessed. There are many other aspects of desire for them which appear in other parts of this letter. But here all Christian progress is regarded as being held in solution and included in vigorous hope.
Why is the activity of hope thus important for Christian life? Because it stimulates effort, calms sorrows, takes the fascination out of temptations, supplies a new aim for life and a new measure for the things of time and sense.
If we lived, as we ought to live, in the habitual apprehension of the great future awaiting all real Christians, would it not change the whole aspect of life? The world is very big when it is looked at from any point upon its surface; but suppose it could be looked at from the central sun, how large would it appear then? "We can shift our station in like fashion, and then we get the true measure at once of the insignificance and of the greatness of life. This world means nothing worthy, except as an introduction to another. Not that thereby there will follow in any wise man contempt for the present, for the very same reference to the future which dwarfs the greatnesses and dwindles the sorrows, and almost extinguishes the dazzling lights, of this present, does also lift it to its true significance and importance. It is the vestibule of that future, and that future is conditioned throughout by the results of the few years that we live here. An apprenticeship may be a very poor matter, looked at in itself; and the boy may say, What is the use of my working at all these trivial things? but if it is apprenticeship, it is worth while to attend to every trifle in its course, since attention to them will affect the standing of the man all his days.
Here and now we are getting ready for the great workshop yonder; learning the trick of the tools, and how to use our fingers and our powers, and when the schooling is done we shall be set to nobler work, and receive ample wages for the years here. Because that great " to-morrow will be as this day" ot earthly life, "and much more abundant," therefore it is no trifle to work amongst the trifles; and nothing is small which may tell on our condition yonder. The least deflection from the straight line, however acute may be the angle which the divergent lines enclose at the starting, and however small may seem to be the deviation from the course, will, if prolonged to infinity, have room between the two for all the stars, and the distance between them will be that the one is in heaven and the other is in hell. And so it is a great thing to live amongst the little things, and life gains its true significance when we dwarf and magnify it by linking it with the world to come.
If we only kept that hope bright before us, how little discomforts and sorrows and troubles would matter. Life would become "a solemn scorn of ills." It does not matter much what kind of cabin accommodation we have if we are only going a short voyage; the main thing is to make the port. If we, as Christian people, cherish, as we ought to do, this great hope, then we shall be able to control, and not to despise, but to exalt this fleeting and transient scene, because it is linked inseparably with the life that is to come.
IV.—Lastly, this hope needs enlightened eyes.
The Apostle prays that God may give these Ephesians "the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him," and then he adds, as the result of that gift, the desire that the Ephesian believers may have "the eyes of their hearts enlightened." That is a remarkable expression. It does not mean, as an English reader might suppose it to mean, that the affections are the agents by which this knowledge reaches us; but "heart" here is used, as it often is in Scripture, as a general expression for the whole inward life, and all that the Apostle means is that, by the gift of the Divine Spirit of wisdom, a man's inner nature may be so touched as to be capable of perceiving and grasping the "hope of the calling."
Observe, too, the language, " that ye may know the hope." How can you know a hope? How do you know any kind of feeling? By having it. The only way of knowing what is the hope is to hope, and this is only possible by dint of these eyes of the understanding being enlightened. For our inward nature, as we have it, and as we use it, without the touch of that Divine Spirit, is so engrossed with this present that the far-off blessedness to which my text refers has no chance of entering there. No man can look at something beside him with one eye, and at something half a mile off with the other. You have to focus the eye according to the object; and he that is gazing upon the near is thereby made blind to that which is afar off. If we go crawling along the low levels with our eyes upon the dust, then, of course, we cannot see the crown above.
We need more than the historical revelation of the light in order to enlighten the inward nature. There is many a man here now who knows all about the immortality that is brought to light by Jesus Christ just as well as the Christian man whose soul is full of the hope of it, and who yet, for all his knowledge, does not know the hope, because he has not felt it. You have to get further than to the acceptance intellectually of the historical facts of a risen and ascended Saviour before there can be in your heart any vital hope of immortality. The inward eye must be cleared and strengthened, cross lights must be shut out, so that we may direct the single eye of our hearts towards the great objects which alone are worthy of its fixed contemplation. And we cannot do that without a Divine help, that Spirit of wisdom which will fill our hearts if we ask for it, which will fix our affections, which will clear our eyesight, which will withdraw it from seeing vanity as well as give it reality to see.
But we must observe the conditions. Since this clearness of hope comes not merely from the acceptance as a truth of the fact of Christ's resurrection and ascension, but comes through the gift of that Divine Spirit, then to have it you must ask for it. Christian people, do you ask for it? Do you ever pray—I do not mean in words, but in real desire— that God would help you to keep steadily before you that great future to which we are all going so fast? If you do you will get the answer. Seek for that Spirit; use it, and do not resist its touches. Do not fix your gaze on the world when God is trying to draw you to fix it upon Himself. Think more about Jesus Christ, more about God's high calling; live nearer to Him, and try more honestly, more earnestly, more prayerfully, more habitually, even amidst all the troubles and difficulties and trivialities of each day, to cultivate that great faculty of joyful and assured hope.
Surely God did not endue us with the power ot hoping that we might fling it all away on trivial, transient things. We are all far too short-sighted. Our fault is, not that we do not hope, but that we hope for such near things, for such small things, like the old mariners who had no compass nor sextant, and were obliged to creep timidly along the coasts and steer from headland to headland. But we ought to launch boldly out into mid-ocean, knowing that we have before us that star that cannot guide us amiss. Do not set your hopes on the things that perish, for if you do, hopes fulfilled and hopes disappointed will be equally bitter in your mouths. And you older people who, like myself, are drawing near the end of your days, and have little else left to hope for in this world, do you see to it that your anticipations extend "above the ruinable skies."
There is an object for hope, beyond experience, above imagination, without example, for which the creation wants a comparison, we an apprehension, and the Word of God itself a sufficient revelation. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be." God hath called us to His eternal kingdom and glory. Let us seek to walk in the light of the "hope of His calling."