In the Christian School of old Holland, where I received my early education, we used to sing a hymn about the object of Christian hope, and the longing of the believer for that object, that ran as follows:
“O, daar te zijn,
Waar nimmer tranen vloeien,
Waar’t hart geen angst, geen kommer kent noch pijn,
Waar doom noch distel groeien,
O daar te zijn!
O daar te zijn!”
and which, translated into English, would run somewhat like this:
“O, were I there!
Where never tears do flow,
Where knows the heart no fear, distress, or pain,
Where thorn nor thistle grow,
O, were I there!
O, were I there!”
And “when I was a child and spake as a child, and understood as a child, and thought as a child”, I loved to sing that song, and could long for that beautiful country, where we would be free from want and distress, from all sorrow and suffering. And I considered that hymn one of the most adequate and appealing expressions of the Christian hope. But “when I became a man, and put away childish things”, I began to look at the hope of the Christian, and, consequently, also at that hymn from a different viewpoint, and came to the conclusion that the hymn did not touch upon what was most essential in the hope of the believer. I still believed that the heavenly country would be beautiful, and a land of bliss, where “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes”, and where there is neither sorrow or crying; but I no longer think that we express the very heart of the Christian hope if we say no more. For the longing of the believer is fixed centrally, not upon the blissful environments and circumstances of God’s house, but upon God Himself; and, therefore, it reaches out, not chiefly for freedom from suffering, but for perfect liberation from sin, for perfection. And because the Christian hope is chiefly fixed upon this object, it is a mighty power in the believer’s life, a power of sanctification, an incentive unto holiness.
Everywhere the Bible teaches that there is an inseparable relation between hope and a godly life. The relation is mutual. On the one hand, a living and conscious hope is quite impossible for one who lives in sin, and who sets his heart on the things of the world. To lead a sanctified life is indispensable to the enjoyment of the blessedness of the Christian hope. But on the other hand, hope is also an incentive to keep our walk and conversation honest and pure in the midst of the world. To the Corinthians the apostle writes: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”. The apostle himself, longing for the perfect knowledge of Christ and the attainment of the resurrection, professes that he does this one thing: “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” . And while he laments the walk of those, “whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly and whose glory is in their shame”, he writes that even now “our conversation is in heaven; from whence we also look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” . For the grace of God that bringeth salvation, and that hath appeared to ah men, teaches “us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearance of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” . We are admonished to follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord; ; and to gird up the loins of our mind, and be sober, as we hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. . And as strangers and pilgrims we are admonished to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul, and to have our conversation honest among the gentiles. , And we must sanctify the Lord God in our hearts, and be always ready to give an answer to every man that may ask us a reason of the hope that is in us, having a good conscience. . For “seeing that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and basting unto the coming of the day of God.” . And we are admonished, seeing that we look for such things, to be diligent that we may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless. , Everywhere the Christian hope is presented as a power and reason for a godly life in the world.
And this raises the question: why is there such a close relationship between hope and sanctification? How must it be explained that hope is a power and incentive unto a life of godliness? There can be no answer to this question as long as the Christian hope to us means nothing more than the prospect of a nice place after death, a beautiful city with pearly gates and streets of gold, where we shall be free from trouble and worry, from suffering and death. I am afraid that for many who profess to be Christians, this is just about the main contents of their hope. They strive after the very best things in this world; if they possibly could, they would be perfectly content to remain here; but seeing that “implacable death” is inevitable, and that after death the judgment must be expected, it is a consoling thought that one may escape hell, and look forward to a beautiful and happy home after death. But if that is the real meaning of our hope, it could never be a power unto a godly and sanctified life. Nor is it in the case of those who entertain such carnal notions of hope. Usually, they live not only in the world, but also as those that are of the world: their hope is something that must help them along on their deathbed, or at the funeral of their dear ones. It certainly is not a power that causes them to strive to be pleasing to God. And yet, there is in the hope of the Christian something that causes him to flee from sin, and perfect holiness in the fear of God. What is that something? It cannot be the impulse to make ourselves worthy of the heavenly glory, for we enter it by grace, not by works. You and I can merit exactly nothing by our works, whatever they be. The desire to earn something with God is no motive in the Christian’s life of godliness and walk in good works. There is, therefore, something else that causes hope to be a power of holiness in the believer. And that something else is the element of longing to be like and to be with God. That, and not the beautiful surroundings of the eternal inheritance, is the chief object of the believer’s hope. And because hope is the longing and expectation for the perfect likeness, and the most intimate fellowship with God, therefore it causes us to strive after that perfection even now.
This truth is emphasized frequently in the Word of God. Inthe apostle writes: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” It is clear that the apostle means to say that there is something in the nature of the promises which we have, for the realization of which we look and long, in the very nature of hope, therefore, that should be and is an incentive to a sanctified Christian life. Now, what are these promises, the possession of which constitutes such a strong power of godliness? The answer you may find in the immediate context, where the apostle writes: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath, righteousness with unrighteousness, and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing: and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” Now, if that is the object of our hope, that God will walk with us and talk with us, and that He will call us His sons and daughters, and draw us into His blessed fellowship, if we have these promises, then that hope will be a power within us to cleanse ourselves, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God. Beautifully and clearly this is expressed by the apostle John: “Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when he (better: it) shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” .
Every man that hath this hope in him! What hope? The hope that we shall be like Him! Like whom shall we be? We shall be like God! Yes, that and nothing less the text declares. That may not be clear from the translation, but it is evident from the original, which may be and should be rendered thus: “Now are we children of God. . . . and when it shall be manifest what we shall be, then we shall be like Him.” That, therefore, is the real heart of the object of our hope: to be like God.. But, you object, that is impossible. We can never become like God. In fact, the ideal to be like God is exactly the invention of the devil, held before man as the highest good in paradise. The motive of that aspiration is unbounded pride. And that is true, if you mean that we shall never be essentially like God. God is GOD, and we are men; He is the Creator, and we are creatures. There is a chasm that can never be abridged between God and us. In this sense we do not even approach likeness with God. There is no approximation of the finite to the Infinite, of the temporal to the eternal, of the relative to the Absolute. And we shall never be like God in the sense that we shall be sovereign as He is sovereign. He alone is Lord, and with relation to Him we shall always be servants. But there is another kind of likeness to God, which Scripture certainly teaches, and frequently mentions. It is a spiritual-ethical resemblance, the highest possible perfection of the image of God in us, the perfect conformation to the image of His Son. That highest possible realization of His image in us, on the plane of heavenly perfection is God’s purpose with His people. “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed according to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”. And the apostle Peter writes that “his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue. Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” . This, then, is the likeness which also the apostle John has in mind in I John 3:2, and which is the chief object of the Christian hope, To be righteous as He is righteous, to be holy as He is holy, to be pure as He is pure, to know Him as we are known, to be faithful and true as He is faithful and true, to walk in the light even as He is a light, and thus to dwell with Him, to see Him face to face, to enter into His secrets, to know His mind and to will His will, and to taste that He is good, and that, too, in the perfection of heavenly glory,—that is the object of the Christian hope, that shall someday be manifest.
That this is, indeed, the end of our salvation, is guaranteed by the fact that even now we are children of God. And it is this same sonship that makes it possible for us to hope for the perfect likeness with God. “Beloved”, thus the apostle writes, “now are we children of God”. Children of God we are, not by nature, for then we are children of our father the devil, and we love darkness rather than light; but by grace. By nature we have no right to be called the children of God, we have forfeited all the rights of sons: the right to Father’s love and favor, the right to His loving care, the right to dwell in His house, the right to His inheritance. But in His great love He bestowed upon us the right to be called the sons of God through the perfect obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ. He adopted us by His grace, and He gave unto us the Spirit of adoption that witnesses with our spirit that we are the sons of God. But He did more. He not merely adopted us, and gave us all the rights of sonship, but He also actually made us into sons of God, so that we are born of Him, and we look like Him in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. And so we can take the words of the apostle on our own lips; now are we children of God! But all this is true only in beginning, in principle. It is not yet manifest what we shall be. For we are still earthy, and we still carry about with us our sinful nature. We are children of God, but how often we appear as children of the devil! We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, but here in the world we look like poor beggars. We are kings, but we do not reign. We are victorious, but we suffer defeat. We have eternal life, but we die as all men. The perfect, heavenly, glorious likeness with God is not yet manifest. No, but it surely shall be. In our present sonship in Christ we have the pledge of that final perfection. Children grow up, and then they are like their father. When my children were infants, they were, indeed, my children, and there was a beginning of my likeness in them. But I could not walk with them, and talk with them, and take them into my secrets, and open unto them my heart, and explain to them my problems, and take counsel with them: they were not yet like me. But when they grew up they became like me, they entered into my fellowship, our love became friendship: they became my chums. Beloved, now are we the children of God, and we are still very small, and there is in us as yet a good deal that is quite in conflict with the perfect likeness with God, and so, it is not yet manifest what we shall be; it is not yet revealed that we are kings and princes, rich in glory, partakers of the divine nature, holy and righteous, clothed with immortality and power, knowing as we are known, and walking in the light of God. But it shall be manifest. For children grow up, and when all that is bestowed upon us in this gift of sonship shall be revealed, we shall be like Father! And to attain to that perfect likeness is the hope of the children!
And that this end of perfect likeness with God shall really be attained follows from the fact that we shall see Him as He is. So that the apostle writes: “we know that if it shall be manifested, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” We shall see God! Of this the Old Testament Psalms already sing. “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake with thy likeness.”. One thing the poet desired of the Lord, and that He would seek after: “that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to enquire in his temple.” . His soul thirsted for Him, and his flesh longed for Him, to see His power and His glory, so as he had seen Him in the sanctuary. . The Lord pronounces those blessed that are pure in heart, for they shall see God. . And He even tells His disciples that even here they enjoy the beginning of this spiritual vision of God: “from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.” And the apostle Paul writes: “For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now we know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known.” Yes, indeed, that precisely expresses the difference between the present and that glorious future, when we shall see Him as He is. We shall, of course, never see the infinite, invisible essence of God. No one has ever seen God. Our seeing of God will always be through His revelation of Himself to us. But there is a great difference between His revelation here, and that by which we shall see Him in heavenly glory. Here I look in a glass, a mirror. And God stands behind me. He reflects Himself in the mirror. And as I gaze into the looking-glass, I behold some dim outline of Him. Or, if you please, here I have a letter of Father written on the pages of Holy Scripture, in which He tells me all about Himself, as my God and Redeemer, through Jesus Christ my Lord. And, to be sure, I love to read that letter over and over again. But I do not see Him. However, all this is to be changed. When it shall be manifested what we shall be, then we shall see Him as He is. We shall no longer stand with our back towards Him, gazing in a mirror to see a reflection of Him; we shall no longer have to be satisfied with a word-picture of Him in a letter; we shall see His face. For in heavenly glory we shall meet with that higher, that highest possible revelation of God which the Scriptures call the face of God, in Jesus Christ, our Lord:
Soon I in glorious righteousness
Shall see Thee as Thou art;
Thy likeness, Lord, when I awake,
Shall satisfy my heart.
But if this is the object of our hope, we can also understand the close relationship between the believer’s hope and a godly life. For as the apostle continues: “And every one that hath this hope on him purifieth himself even as he is pure.” Do not misinterpret these words. We do not cleanse our own nature from sin: sanctification is the work of God by the Spirit of Christ. But to purify ourselves here signifies that in the strength of God’s own work of grace within us, and motivated by the incentive of hope, we fight against sin, and against all carnal and worldly lusts, and walk in the way of the precepts of our God. We purify ourselves daily with respect to our walk in the world. Always there are new temptations we meet, always there are new sins we discover, and from these we purify ourselves daily by the grace of God. We do that. Let us note this,. The apostle does not write an admonition: let us purify ourselves. He states a fact: He that hath this hope on him purifieth himself even as He is pure! But of course! How could it be different? Hope is expectation, it is looking forward to some future good. It is certainty that I shall attain to that future good. It is an earnest longing and yearning of the entire soul, of mind and will and heart, for that future good. It is reaching out for its object. For what object? For a beautiful place? Yes, indeed; for God’s house must certainly be beautiful. But if the object of my hope were no more than this, it would be no incentive to purification and a godly life. No, but I look forward to, I expect with certainty, I yearn earnestly with my whole heart for that greatest of all glories and benefits, for that highest possible state of blessedness in which I shall see God, mark you well, see GOD, the true, the righteous, the holy God, who dwelleth in an inaccessible light! And therefore, I long for being like Him in knowledge, holiness, and righteousness, and to walk in the light, even as He is in the light, for only when I am like Him shall I be able to see Him! But if this hope be in me, if I am really motivated by this mighty longing to be like God, this strong desire will manifest and translate itself into the constant strife for a walk in holiness and righteousness in the midst of this world. “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.”, And if we have this hope on Him, we purify ourselves even as He is pure!