Mr. Standfast

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

April 19, 2004

Notes on Moule's The Meaning of Hope (3)

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


I'm continuing on to chapter 3 of C. F. D. Moule's The Meaning of Hope. I know this process of note-taking is perhaps a little dry and impersonal, but I'm encouraged by Ganns in his response to yesterday's post. I think Moule's book is profoundly encouraging and helpful, and I am simply trying to read it with care, and then share its insights here. I guess I'm hoping if it floats my boat, it might float yours also! And anyway my ultimate hope is to assimilate some of what I learn from Moule into my own work-in-progress.

That having been said, we move on to chapter 3. You may recall that in chapter 1 Moule talked about the difference between mere optimism and true Biblical hope. In chapter 2 he continued in this same vein, showing that Biblical hope springs from trust in God. This point is important, because as we seek to offer hope to others, or to grasp onto it for ourselves, we need to know where hope begins. It begins in trust (or faith) in God. And trust begins when we experience the forgiveness of God that is found in Jesus Christ. This is why hope is reborn in us when we recall what God has already done in our lives, and why David, for instance, does just this, time and again, when he finds himself in a dire situation.

All that having been said, let's get back to Moule. The final 3 chapters of this little book look at the past, present and future aspects of hope. Chapter 3 is called, "The Anchor and the Helmet: The Past Tense."

He begins with Hebrews 6:17-20, which is a passage of such richness that it seems to explode from the page. "By two unchangeable things," His word and His oath, God has revealed His unchangeable purpose. How encouraging this is! We can take hold of it, like a drowning man taking hold of a floating spar, only this hope is far more reliable than a piece of driftwood.

No, the author of Hebrews says it's more like an anchor, "sure and steadfast." Though a storm be blowing all around the ship, the anchor will hold. And furthermore, by means of this anchor, which you may recall is the unchangeable character of the purpose of God, we are connected not simply to the seabed, as with a literal anchor, but to the "inner place" [ESV], the "inner sanctuary" [NIV], the area "within the veil" [KJV]. In other words, the very presence of God, where in days of old only the chosen few could enter.

Moule writes that this anchor of hope "somehow connects us with the world invisible beyond the barriers of sense which hang like the Temple curtain to obscure the sanctuary: it connects us with all the verities beyond our mortal sight, where Christ has Himself entered, guaranteeing, as our forerunner, that we may follow Him there."

This is awesome stuff! Moule goes on to ask this fundamental question: "But why is hope like that? What does it mean when we call our hope an anchor to the soul?"

Well, first of all, this hope has been demonstrated, affirmed, by experience. This is the "past tense" of hope. The Good News is not only the story of what God will do in the future, but what He has already done. It is by this means, by the means of looking back at the history of God with and among His people, that we grow more certain of the perfect consistency of His character.

Take, for example, the exodus from Egypt. From that point on God had become, for His people, not only the God who will save, but the God who saved--"Your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." (Deut. 5:6)

Moule writes: "Yahweh had shown himself to be a God with a consistent character--a God with a moral purpose, bent on training his people to share his character; and it was from this conviction about the covenanting God, as a God with a character, a purpose, and a consistency, that the great prophets of Israel set out to interpret contemporary affairs and to predict the future."

Do you see the importance of this? If God is consistent, then the God who once saved will continue to save, and one day our salvation will be complete and perfect. Even if the circumstances of the moment seem to belie that, faith takes hold of this anchor, which attaches us to the very character of God. "In other words, it was the revealed character of God, as consistently moral and unswervingly upright, that provided the anchorage for the prophet's hopes--and not any mere deduction from the apparent direction of the stream of events."

What's more, we of the church age can look back to an exodus greater even than that which Moses led. That is, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. "This was the turning point in the story of hope." Christ has been raised from the dead!

What does this mean with respect to hope? "The claim is that God has so acted in raising Jesus from the dead that we have a clear guarantee in the past--in the facts of history--for our hope of the future."

Here Moule makes an interesting point. He says that when Christ walked among us in the flesh, the forces of evil were called forth "with unique intensity." The Evil One brought to bear the full force of his hatred, but Christ burst the prison of death that Satan had designed for Him and for us. This was Christ's decisive triumph, and now "there is no conceivable secret weapon left to the Prince of Darkness to use."

I want to shout those words from the rooftops. No conceivable weapon! Christ has completely and utterly disarmed the powers of darkness! Do you get it?

It's easy to forget all this when we look at the horrors of this world, and they are plentiful enough. It's easy to lose hope, let's admit it. Yet that firm assurance of God's consistent character, based on what Jesus Christ achieved, remains our rock-solid foundation of hope.

Now here's the chapter 3 money-quote:

"Of course, the enemy can invent new forms of crime and diabolically new shapes of torture and cruelty; indeed, it was regularly part of the expectations of Biblical writers that before the final manifestation of God's sovereignty the manifestation of evil also would reach its climax. In terms of actual show, there may be worse to follow; but I cannot believe that anything is essentially more wicked than when a mixture of jealousy and fear puts to death the perfect man (1 Cor. 2:8); that is, in essence, the sin against the light. At the crucifixion the forces of evil--in Christ's own disciples and in his enemies--conspired to do that; and it did not extinguish him. So we cannot escape the conclusion that the kingdom of Satan has come, and is defeated."

Woh! This is awesome stuff. If we have Christ in us, we have sure and certain hope, no matter what. The Devil has done his worst and failed. "No weapon formed against us shall prosper."

But that's not all. We're getting very close to the essence of hope here. We're talking about the weapons of the Devil, etc., and this brings us to a striking fact. That is, "affliction," "endurance," and "trials" are closely associated with the Biblical concept of hope.

See, for a prime example, Romans 5:1-5. Here we see a hope that is firmly anchored in the past (Christ's death and resurrection), affording us a reality of new birth in the present (our own death and resurrection through Baptism), and a firm assurance of future grace--the realization of God's entire purpose for all creation. And all of this is only strengthened by distress, maltreatment, trouble.

Moule: "Distress engenders patient endurance, and patient endurance yields the tough resilience of a steady character; and that in itself becomes a part of this overarching hope: so entirely realistic is the Christian Gospel! It can afford to be--it must be--because it is a hope wrenched by the love of God from the kingdom of evil."

Get it? If Christ is in you, your attitude toward the things you must endure will change. You will go from utter despair to certain hope, made more certain by the tribulations through which you must walk. The Valley of Achor shall be your door of hope (Hosea 2:15). The Kingdom of evil has met its match!

I'm sorry for the length of this post, and I expect that most of my readers will not have made it this far, or will have taken one or two siestas along the way, but there is just a little more to go, and it's very important . . .

God's defeat of Satan at the cross was an act of love. But love cannot compel a response. Do you get it? The response to love must be free and uncompelled, or it is not love at all. Therefore, we are free to reject the love of God. In other words, "although the Prince of Disobedience has been vanquished, sin is still with us. And consequently the hope which offers so firm an anchorage in the mighty acts of God in Jesus Christ only becomes hope in actual fact to us if we are penitent and trustful."

Do you get it? There is still disobedience. There is still sin. The Cross redeemed sinful humankind, but we must respond. The community of the Church is the community of those who have done just that, entrusting their lives to the hope that is in Jesus Christ. In who He is, and in what He has done.

"The very first step, therefore, is acceptance of the situation created by sin--by our sins and the sins of others. If we try to escape the burden and the suffering, and side-step the pain of salvation, we are pursuing a false hope. But if we recognize that hope lies in trusting God for the forgiveness both for ourselves and for others, which we could not win for ourselves but which he freely offers us in Christ, and entering thus with Christ into all the costly self-giving which this involves, then hope immediately shows its beacon-light. If we are to see that light, we must have faith and humility enough to look steadily at even the bitterest thing of all--the remorse that we feel, when true penitence is aroused in us, for all the injury which our selfishness has caused to God and to others. We must accept the pain of it all, not sparing ourselves a moment of it: but to accept it with Christ is to have found hope."

"Hope does not mean escape--either from the spiritual pain of remorse or from the physical sufferings entailed by sin. It means an acceptance of all this pain, in the confidence that as Christ faced the absolute suffering of the burden of the sins of the world, so he came triumphant through them, to be our Savior and pioneer and to take us through them with him."

Do you get it? We are approaching great truths here. What Christ has done allows us to endure suffering because we know something that others don't know. 1) This current sufferning is only for a little while. It is not the whole picture. 2) God will turn it to something glorious.

Go to Romans 8:29f. "Those He called, he also justified. Those He justified, He also glorified." "If Christ is for us, who can be against us?"

Go to 1 Peter 1:3, where Peter speaks of "a living hope." And then in v. 13: "Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

And there it is. Our hope is founded in the past, preserves us in the present, and directs our attention to a future consummation that can only be called glorious.

Finally, Moule once again: "In 1 Thessalonians 5:8, St. Paul bids his friends put on the breastplate of faith and love, and, as a helmet, the hope of salvation. Faith, love, and the hope of salvation: there is the divine triad again. And it is with such a helmet that we can afford to lift up our heads in the battle of life, no matter how thick and fast the blows rain down upon us. Will you have it all gathered up in a few words? Will you accept the central guarantee in a Person? Here, in 1 Timothy 1:1, is the sum of the matter: 'Christ Jesus, Our Hope.' "


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