Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

April 26, 2004

Notes on C. F. D. Moule's The Meaning of Hope (5)

Previous Posts in this Series: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4.

And so we arrive at the fifth and final chapter of Moule's brief but powerful book. The previous two chapters have dealt with the past and present aspects of our hope, and so naturally this last chapter deals with the future aspect. This chapter is called, "The Wider Hope."

Moule begins by pointing out that even the dominant pagan culture of Bible times often cherished a wishful vision paradisial vision of the future. He cites Virgil's 4th Eclogue as a prime example. The question Moule poises here at the outset is this: Does this hope of ours have "breadth and length"? Or is it only for a special few, a "chronic minority"? Does it provide a "wider hope" for humanity corporately, or only for "the little church, riding the deluge in an ark while the cosmos is drowned in disaster"?

These questions stir the suspicion in me that Moule, here in his last chapter, is opening the door to some sort of theology of universal salvation, but let's read on. Moule says he recognizes that freedom of choice is a reality, and that freedom can only have meaning if it includes the freedom to reject the love of God. He admits this "theoretically," but he has trouble with the real implications here. "Would it not mean that God's love was defeated?"

In answer to this question, Moule quotes another writer, named George Adam Smith. This quotation is from Smith's commentary, The Book of the Twelve Prophets. Here is the last part of that rather lengthy quote:

"Men say they cannot believe in hell, because they cannot conceive how God may sentence men to misery for the breaking of laws which they were born without power to keep. And one would agree with the inference, if God had done any such thing. But for them which are under the law and the sentence of death, Christ died once and for all that He might redeem them. Yet this does not make a hell less believable. When we see how almighty was that Love of God in Christ Jesus, lifting mankind and sending them forward with a freedom and a power of growth which nothing else in history has won for them; when we prove again how weak that Love is, so that it is possible for characters which have felt it to refuse its enduring influence for the sake of some base and transient passion; nay when I myself know this power and this weakness of Christ's Love, so that one day being loyal I am raised beyond the reach of fear and doubt, beyond the desire of sin and the habit of evil, and the next day finds me capable of putting it aside for the sake of some enjoyment or ambition--then I know the peril and the terror of this love, that it may be to a man either Heaven or Hell."

These are majestic words. This is why we are to work out our salvation in "fear and trembling," for as Moule says, "The more loving Love is seen to be, the deeper is the horror of rejecting it, even for an instant." And so we have here a depiction of God's love as both strong and weak, as both gentle and tenacious. Moule in this section approaches the idea of universalism without actually endorsing it. The call that God makes upon us is urgent, and requires a response. It "makes no promise to the procrastinating sinner." But, says Moule, nevertheless we must recognize that God's love is a tenaciously pursuing and overcoming kind of love. Hosea's love for his wayward wife was not more loyal than God's. Moule sees this two-sidedness of God's love as a paradox that must be kept in mind.

Remember that Moule is approaching the issue of the "wider hope," the breadth of God's hope. In what way can it be said that the hope offered by God is applicable even to the unsaved. Quoting James 1:18, he speaks of the church as the first fruits of God's creation. He then goes on to Romans 8:19f, which speaks of the entire universe yearning, straining, in eager anticipation of "the revealing of the sons of God." Why? "Because creation itself is going to be released from its servitude to decay into the freedom which belongs to the glorious destiny of the sons of God." (8:20-21)

Now, Christ is the first fruits of this. And the church itself, in this present age, is also in its way the first fruits of a greater harvest. Moule writes: "In short, the very realization of hope within the Body of Christ only finds its meaning as a foretaste of something greater still. Hope ceasing to be hope unless it becomes itself an outward turned and missionary calling, driving us out to be mediators and ambassadors. It would be meaningless if it were intended only for those already saved."

Hope of this kind is, then, active and practical. It is not simply that we long for the harvest. We work for it, as God's ambassadors. We are "bringing it in." Our calling is not one in which we escape from the tumult of the world to ease and rest: it is a call to action. This is the nature of Sonship and what is meant by "the cost of discipleship."

We are now to the last pages of The Meaning of Hope. Moule writes:

We [the church] are called to be the growing-point of a new human society, by being united in the obedience of sons. One perfectly obedient life we claim has actually been lived--the life of the absolute Son of god, Jesus Christ. We have already recognized that the supremely victorious quality of that life and death and resurrection constitutes the anchor of our hope. It is clear from our present line of study that this is not merely a historical anchorage in the past, but, more organically viewed, a representative principle of obedience at the very heart of things--a cell of life and health at the center of a sick organism: 'As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.' And it is this vital growing-point, and its growing Body, the church, animated by the Holy Spirit, which gives ground for hope and a final redemption of all things. . . .

For Christian hope is emphatically more than a doubtful wishing--more even than expectation of good: it is trust in God and in his family; it is securely anchored in the triumph of Christ's resurrection; it is exhibited in the community in which the Holy Spirit lives and acts. But it is not confined within the circle of believers: it is, by its very nature, inclusive. The Christian hope cannot be itself without being evangelistic, and it cannot be itself without concerning itself with the whole of life.

"Therefore, my beloved brethren" (and here is the imperative which springs from, our hope's indicative) "be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." (1Cor 15:58)


This concludes my series on this book. The fifth chapter, despite many fine passages, was in some ways the weak spot of an otherwise very interesting and helpful book. I am going to continue to think about these issues, with the intention of in the end writing a summary of Biblical hope "in my own words." Keep your fingers crossed!


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