Andrew Baxter

Hope And Its Future

Gospel Advocate 1874:

“For we are saved by hope.”—Romans 8:24

One of the most precious of the consolations which abound by Christ is, that the best is always before the believer, and lying in the future, however trying his past and gloomy his present experience. That which has been, shall vex no more for ever. That which is, is swiftly passing away. But “the hope laid up in heaven,” by the covenant arrangement of everlasting love and mercy in Christ, is “an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast.” This truth, if apprehended by the Spirit’s teaching, will make each opening year more welcome than its predecessor to a child of God, whatever dark shadows lie outstretched over its threshold. And there are shadows, many and various, and of strange and uncouth shapes. They appear in the dwellings and life-pathway of each. They affect the church of God in general, and its members in particular. They obscure the Lord’s gracious purposes, and fill with groundless forebodings. We see in them all the imaginary forms and figures which, when children, we have many a time imagined when gazing at the moving, changing clouds. And we marvel not that the three highly-favoured ones who saw not “the bright light that was in it,” and the glorious revelation that awaited them from it, should have “feared as they entered into the cloud” (Luke 9:34).

Brethren and Sisters in the Lord, we greet you in His unchangeable name of Faithfulness and Love among these shadows and clouds, on the eve of another year. For their issues of life and death, joy and sorrow, peace and conflict, belong unto Him, Who is the “Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous,” and Who “Is our hope.” Through tender mercy, the day spring from on high has visited the souls of all of us who fear His name with the beams of grace, whatever may be lacking in the way of assurance. The darkness of spiritual ignorance, deceit, and death is past. What now shines to afford a gleam of hope to our sin-convinced souls is “the True Light;” “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”(2 Cor. 4:6). If dark and cold in our feelings, we can no longer kindle our own fire, and compass ourselves about with sparks, or walk in the light of our fire. Creature devices and expedients may too often ensnare us in temporal matters; much like, if not in precisely the same way as they did our father Jacob, and our mothers Sarah and Rebekah. But in the things of God we cleave to the “means” God has devised,—“Christ, and Him crucified,” and the Holy Spirit’s almighty power and gracious anointings. 

Time was when we trusted that with a New Year we might as believers enter on an improved course in respect of our frames, feelings, and resolutions; as if nature or grace were ruled by the commencement of a fresh epoch of Time. Not that it should not be an earnest desire to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: to die daily to this world, and to live unto God as those who are alive from the dead. But while under the law, we knew not the true source of all strength. As often as we failed to accomplish our desire we were for making a fresh start: only to fail again when assailed with a temptation suited to a besetting sin. We had not sufficiently learnt the lessons, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6), and “Without me ye can do nothing.” (Chap. 15:5). Perhaps none of us have thoroughly learnt them now; nor shall till our journey’s end. Like the chamelion, the flesh is constantly changing its hues. Like Proteus, its various forms are numberless. “Who can understand his errors?” What Hart says of Pride may very appropriately be applied to the flesh in general:

“’Tis hurtful when perceived;

When not perceived ’tis worse:

Unseen, or seen, it lurks within

And works by fraud or force.”

Yet there is much we can now see of its insidious operations in the year just added to the number of the past. Intermingling with our most sacred occupations, it has formed “the iniquity of the holy things,” which had not the great antitypical Aaron also condescended to bear away (Exod. 28:38), no hope of salvation could dwell within us. But to whatever extent we can trace the past, in our pilgrimage of 1873, how frequently has it remained undetected? If it really be true, as alleged by some free-grace preachers—that each sin must be specially repented of, in order to salvation, who then shall or can be saved? Not the most watchful, not the most observant, could abide such a test. Innumerable are our “secret faults,” which lie naked and open to the eyes of Him alone with Whom we have to do. This is verified by the Lord Himself, Who says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins” (Jer. 17:9, 10). Certain it is that the Holy Spirit convinces all the elect of the total depravity of human nature; and that, at different times, particular sins are brought to view, more than are others; in consequence of circumstances of a trying and tempting nature affording scope for their exercise. But he must have a poor idea both of the number and quality of his transgressions, who can say he has repented of them all, one by one. And poorer still must be his apprehensions of that act of Divine wisdom, paternal love to him, which “laid upon Christ the iniquity—not iniquities—of us all,” and made His soul the offering for sin—not sins. Gathering the whole mass together into one heap, the Father and Judge imposed it upon the willing and all-sufficient Surety, Who, “by one offering, hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”

It is this which enables us to contemplate the past. Were there not the rich stream of blood from the riven Rock tracking our footsteps in this wilderness, the dark shadows of bygone times and days would render it impossible to look back into their deep recesses: for “God requireth that which is past” (Ecc. 1:15). But with that rolling over the sin-spotted pathway of every vessel of mercy, it is ever well to “call to remembrance the former days after we were illuminated,” although there be much to cause us to be confounded and never open our mouths any more because of our shame, in the day the Lord is pacified towards us for all that we have done” (Ez. 16:63). What groveling there has been; what cleaving to the dust of time and sense! What legality has been interwoven with our feelings and religious exercises! What deadness to prayer and spiritual meditation! What misapprehension of the Lord’s dealings and leadings! But where shall we end if we attempt to go on? We pause, and desire with true humility and humble confidence to say with the Psalmist, “He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him” (Psalm 103:10, 11).

In taking a retrospect, the feelings of a child of God are very different to those of a worldling. He does not look back as Lot’s wife. The well-watered plain of Jordan, in its connection with the doomed cities of Sodom and Gomorrha, from which Almighty Love has delivered him, possesses no attractions to induce his return to it. As he ponders his former condition he can fully endorse the Apostle’s words: “For the time past of our lives may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries” (1 Peter 4:3). With the festivities, follies, and sins of Christmastide and New Year’s-day his soul no longer can assimilate. And, if fixed by Divine Providence in the midst of a frivolous, pleasure-seeking circle, to whom drinking, songs, dances, and theatres are the essence of all happiness, he feels, even though there should be a secret lusting in his flesh after something pertaining to the season of “the lord of Misrule,” that it is in reality crucified unto him, and he unto it. And if unable to consort with those who fear the Lord, he is as a sparrow alone; a pelican of the wilderness, and an owl of the desert, longing for the termination of that period which Popery has blessed and sanctified above the Lord’s Own day:

We always sympathise with young christians in the midst of the temptations which abound while Rome’s holy days are being nationally observed. For then Satan’s sparks are freely flying abroad, and there is tinder enough in “youthful lusts” for them to alight upon. And, “behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” The daughters of Moab and Midian with their idols too often become a snare to the young among the Israel of God, and only by the Great Phineas executing judgment is the plague stayed, and their souls delivered. Reproofs from the word of God, smitings of conscience, and dread of the rod of affliction, serve to sober the excessive exuberance of the spirits, and to bring the latter end to mind. Thus “even in laughter the heart becomes sorrowful” (Pro. 14:13); “for as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool. This also is vanity” (Ecc. 6:6). Surely then there is nothing to look back upon with regret from which God has by grace rescued us. The yoke under which we are brought is easy; Christ’s burden, which we are called to bear, is truly light.

For the sake of contrasting our once dangerous state with our present condition as new creatures in Christ Jesus, and rendering some humble thanksgiving to God, it is well to “remember the days of old.” We are thus occupied like Hezekiah in watching the sun’s shadow receding on the dial.The good hand of our God appears in many an event which at the time it occurred was wrapt in the densest obscurity. And we feel constrained to unite with the Prophet, saying, “I will mention the loving-kindnesses of the Lord, and the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He hath bestowed on them according to His mercies, and according to the multitude of His loving-kindnesses” (Isaiah 62:7). In this review, the perils in Egypt, the Lord’s wonders at the Red Sea, at Marah, at Meribah, at Sinai, in the land of Jordan, and the Hermonites, at the hill Mizar, are all brought to light. And—

Our souls amazed at the stupendous grace,

Which stayed our course amid the devious ways

Of sin and death, scan, what is ne’er described,

The wondrous deeps of love in Him who died,

And lives, and from His heavenly throne

Exerts a power which claims us as His own.

The shadow on the dial as it goes back shows to us the marvellous care, tenderness, longsuffering, and sustaining and delivering power of a covenant God. The heavenly rays fall on various spots where He has tried us, and we have proved Him. Our sins and backslidings are viewed in contrast with His love and faithfulness, and every heart-rending trial, pain, and hardship, appears radiant with the compassion and goodwill of Him who still dwells in the burning bush. Such has been the experience of the past. An experience truly abasing to the sinner, and glorifying to God. An experience which endorses the language of the restored captivity: “Howbeit Thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for Thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly (Neh. 9:33). And what issues from this experience? It worketh Hope (Rom. 5:4). Even as it is set forth in the Apostle Paul’s description of his own experience: “Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver; in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us (2 Cor. 1:10). This is the hope which “maketh not ashamed;” the hope by which “we are saved.”

The solid nature of the foundation on which this hope rests, the character of its Author, Operator, and Object, distinguish it from the hope both of the dead sinner and of the hypocrite. That of the former, lies buried in the rubbish of the world and nature’s ruins; in the pleasures and prospects of this life: that of the latter, is the spider’s web of self-righteousness, woven from his own resources. The true hope is founded upon Him who is “the Hope of Israel,” “the fountain of living waters.” Its Author is God the Father, in His love in Christ Jesus: for it is He who “hath given us in Him good hope through grace.” (2 Thes. 2:16.) Its Operator is the Holy Ghost, (Rom. 5:5) Its Object is Christ in His fulness of sacrificial, and law-fulfiling merit (1. Cor. 15:19.); (Gal. 1:27.) This glorious Object is the very beginning of a-law-and-sin-stricken sinner’s hope. 

Till God in human flesh I see,

My thoughts no comfort find;

The holy, just, and sacred Three,

Are terrors to my mind.

But if Emmanuel’s face appear,

My hope, my joy begins;

His name forbids my slavish fear,

His grace, removes my sins.

His grace removes my sins.

It was as the faith of the Psalmist perceived this precious Object of Hope that he could cry out, “And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in Thee.” “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God” (Psalm 42:11). Without Christ there is no Gospel; without the Gospel there is no hope of deliverance from the Judge. Without Christ, the God of Nature and Providence is but enduring His appointed time with vessels of wrath fitted to destruction; prepared when that time arrives to break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Therefore, men who are “without Christ,” may ever be anticipating brighter times and more joyous scenes, as they cast a troubled look upon their past; but whether that hope be fulfilled or not, they are not “saved” by it, in a gracious sense, in any way: for “Salvation is far from the wicked, for they seek not the Lord’s statutes” (Psalms 119:155). Not so with the believer. Beyond his hills, seas, and fires of tribulation, his hope in Christ, little though it be, urges him to look and cry for help. His path may continue rugged, and full of the briars and thorns of the wilderness. The opening year may present no change for the better to the eye of sense. Day and night the Lord’s hand may be heavy upon him or his. The fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be in the vines, the labour of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no meat; the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there may be no herd in the stalls. The stars of heaven and the constellations thereof may not give their light; the sun may be darkened in his going forth, and the moon may not cause the light to shine. The Lord may appear inflexible and inaccessible. Prayer and shouting may seem shut out. Deserted and ready to become a prey to all devourers the soul may seem. And yet there is a something at the bottom of all this. What is it? It is “Christ within, the hope of glory.” Should He fail, all indeed is lost. This secret pent-up hope keeps the head above water. “Let me not be ashamed of my hope,” is the cry of the tried one, amid all his afflictions and oppressions. And that cry is heeded by the sympathizing Head of the Church, and the blessed Spirit Who prompts it will surely convey the answer in that way and time which shall give the fruition to hope. “For the Lord will not cast off for ever: but though he cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies” (Lam. 3:31-32.) Were a believing hope to make ashamed, its Author, Operator, and Object, would be confounded with it. The future is therefore as indissolubly connected with the crown, as the present is with the cross. Brethren in the ministry, we live in critical times. In times when every Sanctuary of our God ought to be like a hill with a beacon fire upon its summit, to assemble the scattered and divided clans of Zion. Stealthily the combined hosts of Popery, Infidelity, and every conceivable heresy have been, and are still advancing. The progress of the Assyrian army as delineated in the stirring language of Isaiah, well sets forth the progressive steps of the march of our present national and personal enemies: “He is come to Alath, he is passed to Migron; at Michmash he hath laid up his carriages: they are gone over the passage: they have taken up their lodging at Geba; Rama is afraid; Gibeah of Saul is fled. Lift up thy voice O daughter of Gallim; cause it to be heard unto Laish, O poor Anathoth, Madmenah is removed; the inhabitants of Gebim gather themselves to flee. As yet shall he remain at Nob that day: he shall shake his hand against the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem.” (chap. 10:28-32.)

And what fresh and ever-nearing stages will this year develop? Will the Lord, the Lord of Hosts, lop the bough with terror? Shall the high ones of stature be hewn down, and the haughty humbled? (verse 33.) If so it will not be by Zion’s arm. The efforts of misguided zeal on the part of many of her sons to destroy “the Unity of the Spirit,” and to stand aloof and alone by their own sect or party, proclaim the success of the enemy’s devices. “Divide and conquer,’ ‘scatter and destroy,’ are still the maxims of the powers of darkness. But the Lord reigneth; He is clothed with majesty, the Lord is clothed with strength, wherewith He hath girded Himself. He alone must be our hope for the future. It lies in His hand, and is hidden in His purpose. There is no counsel or device against Him; but His counsel shall stand, and He will do all His pleasure. Nevertheless it behoves all His servants and children to labour for love and unity. Let us agree in what is possible. Let a candid hearing be granted to all. Let not suspicion and distrust operate towards those who are willing to face the light of Divine truth: whose experience, life and walk attest their heavenly birth. The strife has been too long and fierce to hope for perfect unanimity on earth on the subject of water baptism, but out hope for the future is, that the day may come, when the claims of the Spirit’s “One Baptism,” shall be duly acknowledged, and shall no longer permit a barrier to be fixed by good men between the Lord’s table and any of his blood-bought quickened family. Nothing less than this will effect it.

That one impediment removed there would be no longer cause for embittered feelings on either side. When shall this thing be? Is it reserved for the cloudless morning of Eternity? Our hope for the future tells us that the Lord “Knoweth what is in the darkness and the light dwelleth with Him.” Confiding in this, and His eternal faithfulness, may grace constrain us, dear brethren, to labour, pray, and wait. The present is ours, the future with the Lord; and our hope in Him must be crowned, whatever our trials, with Salvation. “For we are Saved by hope.”

Andrew Joseph Baxter (1834-1908) was an Independent sovereign grace preacher, writer and hymnologist. In 1867, he was appointed successor to John Grace by the church meeting at Cavendish Place Chapel, Eastbourne, a position he held for forty years. He also served as editor of the Gospel Advocate.