Hope Deferred

 •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 10
The subject of hope occupies a large place in the New Testament, and especially in the Book of Romans, where it occurs fifteen times in the KJV and seventeen times in the JND translation. In this epistle, we are seen as having been redeemed and made fit for the Lord’s presence, yet still as men on the earth, working our way through difficulties, but with the hope of eternal blessing at the end of the pathway. It is important to see that the word “hope” in Scripture does not carry with it any degree of uncertainty as to the fulfillment of that which is hoped for; the only uncertainty is as to the timing of the realization of the hope. This is unlike the general meaning of the word in everyday speech, where hope usually denotes uncertainty in every way about a future event.
The question of our eternal salvation is taken up in the first few chapters of Romans, and the matter is summed up in chapter 5, where we read, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1-21Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1‑2)).
In this truth the believer can rest, for he has been justified by faith, has peace with God about the question of his sins, and can “rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Scarcely any properly instructed believer would doubt the force of these words and the certainty of them. The work of Christ is complete; we stand before God in grace and have no fear of judgment for our sins. As another has remarked, “It is relatively easy for the believer to leave the matter of his eternal salvation and destiny with God, for we realize that it is entirely in His hands.” We do indeed rejoice in the hope before us.
However, we are not home yet, but rather have before us a hope, and as we read in Romans 8:2525But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. (Romans 8:25), “If we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” The waiting in patience is connected with our faith, for it is in proportion to the strength of our faith that our hope is sustained. (It is noteworthy that the word “faith” is also prominent in the Book of Romans, occurring no less than forty times in the KJV.) If our faith is strong and we are fully convinced of the truth of what God has said, then our hope will be strong as well, and we will indeed wait in patience for the realization of it. However, we are still men and women on the earth, and the trials and sorrows of the way may occasionally threaten to overwhelm our faith and hope.
Hopes Connected With This Life
For every believer, there may well be certain hopes that are connected with this life — certain cherished dreams and ambitions that we would like to realize down here. These hopes can take many forms and, of course, are more strongly felt when we are young. It may be a hope that even a worldly person might have, such as financial success, possessions, fame or power. Such expectations may well still be present in the heart of the believer. However, it may be a hope connected with the things of everyday life — things that are not wrong in themselves. Perhaps there is a particular career that we would like to pursue, or it may be a hope for a marriage partner, and perhaps a family that can, in time, surround us. It may be a hope connected with spiritual things, perhaps for a home, which we would like to use for the Lord. In other cases, there may be a desire to serve the Lord in a particular way, or to see a group of believers going on well in a particular place. All these things may, at various times, take hold of our hearts and engender a burning desire for their fulfillment.
When time goes on and our hope is not fulfilled, our faith is tried. Although we may not give way to the despair that often takes over the man of the world, it is easy for discouragement to come in. We read in Proverbs 13:1212Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:12), “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick,” and we see many people in the world today who are sick in this way. Sad to say, not a few of them are believers, whose hopes in this life have not matured and whose ambitions seem to have been dashed to the ground. Not only discouragement but also bitterness may come in, and perhaps even a feeling (although perhaps unspoken) that “the way of the Lord is not equal” (Ezek. 18:2525Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal? (Ezekiel 18:25)).
What Is the Answer?
First of all, we must realize that as believers in this dispensation of God’s grace, we are not promised anything in this world. Israel’s blessings were earthly, but all our blessings are heavenly, and while God in His goodness to us may give us mercies by the way, we must realize that these are indeed mercies, not blessings. In the past 150 years, the Lord has given much in the way of temporal mercies to some parts of the world, particularly to Western Europe and North America. The result has been that many believers living in these areas today tend to look on these things as being normal and proper for them, considering them part of God’s blessings. The Lord Jesus could say to His disciples, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:3333These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)), and in His prayer to His Father, He could say, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:1414I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (John 17:14)). The believer can look back to Calvary’s cross and rest His faith on the work of Christ; he can also look forward to the glory and rest his hope on what God has promised. But he is not promised anything between the cross and the glory, except the privilege of following a rejected Christ and to have His joy fulfilled in them.
When this truth firmly grips the soul, we are freed from the anxieties and frustrations that so often tend to overtake us. We are not to wish for things such as power, money and fame, for “all these things do the nations of the world seek after” (Luke 12:3030For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. (Luke 12:30)). However, it is not wrong to have certain hopes connected with life down here. The believer is dead to the world and dead to sin, but he is never said to be dead to nature. Such hopes as a career, a suitable marriage partner, a family or a home are not out of character with Christianity. Likewise, in the spiritual realm, it is quite in order to have a hope of serving the Lord in a particular way, to be used as an instrument of blessing to God’s people, and to see the saints of God go on well and in harmony together. However, in all of these things, we must allow the Lord to shape our circumstances, first of all for His glory, and then for our ultimate blessing. Any object, any hope, that falls short of Christ Himself, even something good in itself, is not worthy of the believer.
God Delights in Our Happiness
In saying all this, we do not want to give the impression that the Lord intends for us to lead lonely, ascetic lives. No, He delights in our happiness and has told us in Psalm 37:44Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. (Psalm 37:4), “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” These desires surely include those natural joys that He has graciously provided for us. But we must allow Him to make that choice for us and not insist on our own agenda.
Our own hopes and ambitions may be very good in themselves, but the Lord’s purposes for us take us to a higher plane, where we live and move in the light of eternity, not merely for life down here. While God desires our happiness, we must remember that happiness is a state of soul, not a question of circumstances. It is in the pathway of His will that we will not only honor Him, but will also be supremely happy. More than this, we will be building for eternity, not for time.
This is true even in spiritual things, where unrealized hopes may be particularly hard to take. No doubt Paul felt it keenly when he had to say, at the end of a strenuous and faithful life, “All they which are in Asia be turned away from me” (2 Tim. 1:15). Yet there is not one hint of discouragement in the whole epistle, in spite of the general decline that was overtaking the profession of Christianity. Paul’s faith remained strong, and he could say, “I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12). In more recent years, when a younger brother was occupied with troubles among the saints and wondered out loud, “Whatever is going to become of us?” an older brother wisely replied, “Scripture knows no future for the believer but glory.”
To have cherished hopes that we can happily submerge in the Lord’s will for us is the pathway of joy and blessing, for then our own will is not operative, but rather we say, as the Lord Jesus did, “Not My will, but Thine, be done” (Luke 22:4242Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. (Luke 22:42)).
W. J. Prost