A Study of 1st Thessalonians 1:3
“And patience of hope.” (1st Thessalonians 1:3)
The grace of hope is that third grace in living union with faith and love in the heart of God’s people, as “an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil”(Hebrews 6:19).
But what does hope take its rise from?
Testimonies from God; evidences of interest in the love and blood of the Lamb; manifestations of mercy to the soul; promises applied with power; the witness of the Spirit to our spirit that we are born of God; believing and feeling the work of grace has been begun, and is going on in the heart; the reviving of God’s presence, the refreshing dew and unction of His grace, the meltings of the soul at His feet, and the breakings in of the Lord of life and glory upon the heart – these things lie at the foundation of a “good hope through grace” (2nd Thessalonians 2:16). Not because you are members of a gospel church; not because you worship at a certain chapel; not because you have received certain doctrines; not because your life is outwardly consistent with the Word of God; not because you pray, and read the Bible, and perform a number of duties – such never can be the foundations of “a hope that maketh not ashamed” (Romans 5:5). The only solid foundation of a gospel hope is, testimonies from God, marks of His favour, the application of blood to the conscience, meltings of spirit under the sweet whisperings of divine love, and a well-grounded persuasion that the work of grace with power has been begun in the conscience.
But wherever this hope is, there will be “patience” attending it. Love has its labour, faith has its work, hope has its patience. But what is meant by the expression “patience”? It means endurance, as though hope had to endure, faith to work, and love to labour. Hope stays at home, patiently enduring. By this patience, hope in the sinner’s soul is manifested. Just in the same way as faith has to work against unbelief, and love to labour against enmity, so hope has to endure everything that contradicts it, and that would, but for the grace of God, effectually crush it. Would unbelief, without the power of God, effectually crush faith? Would enmity, without the power of God, utterly extinguish love? So would despair strangle hope in its very cradle, unless sustained by the mighty power of God.
Each of these graces in the soul has then its separate antagonist. Unbelief fights hand to hand with faith; enmity foot to foot with love; and despair front to front with hope. And as the strength of faith is manifested by the power with which it fights against unbelief, and the strength of love is manifested by the power with which it labours against enmity, so the strength of hope is manifested by the power with which it endures the contest with despair.
But what causes despair or despondency in the sinner’s soul? Is it not because he finds so much in himself that is utterly opposed to God and godliness? If there were no inward adulteries, no secret idolatries, no darkness of mind, no deadness of soul, no hardness of heart, no tempting devil, no alluring world, no body of sin and death – you would not feel despondency set in upon you as a flood. But this is it which causes despondency in a feeling soul – to find in himself so much of everything that is opposite to the work of God upon the heart; so much of everything that is the very opposite to what a saint desires to be, and what he believes every saint should be. But as long as he can see his signs, as long as he can feel the power of God’s testimonies, as long as he can believe he is treading in the footsteps of the flock, hope maintains its hold.
But no sooner does the LORD hide His face, testimonies sink out of sight, evidences give way, and the evils of his fallen nature manifest themselves, than despondency begins to work. It must be so. If I had no sinful heart, no unbelief, no infidelity, no inward adultery or idolatry, no pride, no hypocrisy, no covetousness, no powerful lusts, no boiling corruptions, no harassing enemy, no alluring world, no wicked heart, why need I despond? But it is because there is such opposition to vital godliness in the sinner’s heart, because there is so much in him that he knows and feels to be contrary to grace and the work of grace, that makes him doubt.
But these very things call forth hope’s peculiar work – to endure. It is the “patience of hope” that proves its reality and genuineness. Hope does not go forward fighting and cutting its way. Hope is like a quiet sufferer, patiently bearing what comes upon it. Hope is manifested in enduring, as faith is manifested in acting.
For instance: when the LORD hides His face, when testimonies sink out of sight, when signs are not seen, when Satan tempts, when the work of grace upon the soul seems to be all obscured, and in consequence a feeling despondency begins to set in, then the “patience of hope” is needed to endure all things – not to give way, but to maintain its hold. It acts in the same way, according to the beautiful figure of Paul, as the anchor holds the ship. What is the main value, the chief requisite in the cable that holds the anchor? Is it not endurance? The cable does nothing: it simply endures. It does not make a great ado in the water; its only good quality (the only quality wanted in it), is strength to endure, not to break. When the waves rise, the billows beat, the storm blows, and the tide runs strongly, then the work of the cable is not to part from the anchor, not to break, but firmly to maintain the hold it has once taken.
And thus with the anchor too. It does nothing, and is wanted to do nothing. To hold fast is all its work and all its excellence. Thus it is with a hope in a sinner’s breast. Has the Lord ever shown Himself gracious unto him? Has the Lord ever made Himself precious to his soul? ever dropped a testimony into his conscience? ever spoken with power to his heart? Has his soul ever felt the Spirit inwardly testifying that he is one of God’s people? Then his hope is manifested by enduring patiently everything that is brought against it to crush it, and, if God did not keep, utterly to destroy it.