The Prisoner of Hope

 •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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There are two leading principles in the soul of the Christian, which make God the special object. These are “faith and hope.” There is a marked distinction, and yet an intimate connection, between these two principles. Faith takes what God has given; hope expects what He has promised. Faith rests in holy tranquility in God’s statements about the past; hope goes forth in active longings after the future. Faith is a recipient; hope an expectant. Now, it will be found that in proportion to the vigor of faith will be the vigor of hope. If we are not “fully persuaded that, what [God has] promised, He [is] able also to perform,” we shall know but little of the power or energy of hope. If faith is wavering, hope will be flickering. If faith is strong, hope will be strong also, for faith imparts strength and intensity to the expectation. The patriarch Abraham was a happy exemplification of all this; his “faith and hope” were truly “in God.” Circumstances added nothing to him. He had been promised the whole land of Canaan, where he had not so much as to set his foot on; he had been promised a seed like the stars of heaven or like the sand by the seashore when as yet he had no child. Everything within the range of mortal vision argued against him, but the promise of “the Almighty God” was quite enough for the man of faith. “The God of glory” had called him from the baseless city of man to the well-founded city of God.
The Stronghold
But Zechariah 9:1212Turn you to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope: even to day do I declare that I will render double unto thee; (Zechariah 9:12) tells us, “Turn you to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope: even today do I declare that I will render double unto thee.” This verse presents the believer as the recipient of grace and the expectant of glory; as one safely lodged in a “stronghold,” but yet as “a prisoner of hope”; as one in the enjoyment of perfect peace, yet also living in the hope of better things. Let us look closer at these two points.
There is only one thing that can render the soul happy in looking forward into the future, and that is the knowledge of God’s redeeming love in giving His Son to be a perfect sacrifice for sin. The sinner must get at the other side of the cross before he can happily or peacefully look forward; we can only study prophecy with a purged conscience. It is when we know, through the Spirit, the value of the sufferings of Christ that we can joyfully contemplate the glory that is to follow. That grace which brings salvation must first be received before “the blessed hope” can be enjoyed.
The Evangelist and the Teacher
All this leads us to see the distinction between the work of the evangelist and that of the teacher. The evangelist has to convey a simple message concerning an accomplished work, which work must be the basis of the guilty sinner’s peace. He is privileged to stand in the midst of a ruined world and to offer salvation to all who will believe the Word concerning the cross. It is important that evangelists clearly understand the nature and limits of their work and the terms of their commission. It sometimes happens that preachers of the gospel mar their work by intruding upon the province of the teacher. They think it incumbent on them to press upon the attention of people the fruits that result from the reception of the gospel, but this is, properly speaking, the work of the teacher, who has to do only with those who have passed under the hand of the evangelist. The teacher has no more to do with sinners than the evangelist has to do with saints. Of course, we may sometimes see the gift of an evangelist and a teacher developed in the same person. Where they are thus combined, great care is needed not to confound them in their exercise.
The teacher should not only press upon the believer his responsibilities; he should also instruct him in the nature of his hope and expound to him the book of prophecy, according to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. The evangelist has to speak of what God has done; the teacher, of what He will do. The former calls for the action of faith; the latter, for the action of hope. The former points to the stronghold; the latter speaks to the prisoner of hope. If these things are confounded, the effect will be very harmful. The enemy of souls may often work much mischief by leading the unregenerate to exercise their intellects on the subject of prophecy. The devil will endeavor either to suppress or corrupt the truth of God. For ages he succeeded in keeping the church of God from the precious doctrine of the coming of the Lord. Now that attention has been awakened on the subject, he is maliciously seeking to nullify it by causing unhallowed lips to proclaim and teach it, or by causing Christians to differ about it.
The Christian’s Place
The remedy for both these dangerous evils is the simple understanding of the Christian’s place, as a prisoner of hope. The Spirit of God has spoken of the church’s destinies for the purpose of comforting the prisoner, by giving him a well-grounded hope. The believer, resting on the blood of Christ, is privileged to look forward to “the morning without clouds,” while already knowing that he is accepted in the Beloved. Thus, the believer is a prisoner of hope. His faith reposes on the cross; his hope feeds upon the rich pastures of God’s prophetic record. His spirit travels over a course of which the cross is the starting-post and glory the goal.
The two points are inseparable. It is only when we find it sweet to look back that we also find it sweet to look forward. We must see our names in the book of life before we can understand our title to eternal joys. To the unregenerate soul the future is unspeakably dreadful, for prophecy conveys a twofold message. It tells of judgment to the man who is yet in his sins, and it tells of eternal life to the man who has believed in the Son of God. Hence, to the former, it speaks of complete shipwreck; to the latter, the glorious consummation of all his hopes.
Waiting for the Adoption
Every prisoner longs for the day of release. The walls of his prison-house do not engage his attention; rather, he groans and sighs for deliverance. Just so should it always be with us. We should unceasingly “groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” “We,” says the Apostle, “that are in this tabernacle, do groan, being burdened; not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” Here is the proper language of a prisoner of hope. Doubtless, we feel the sorrow and trial of our present position; yes, “we groan, being burdened.” Nevertheless, the putting off of the earthly tabernacle would not perfectly remedy the case. To be unclothed as to our spirits would not make us perfectly happy. Some Christians err in their thoughts on this subject, thinking that the moment the spirit escapes from its prison house, it enters into perfect bliss. But nothing but his being clothed upon with his house which is from heaven can fill up the measure of the believer’s joy. Until then, whether he is imprisoned in the tomb or is in a body of sin and death, death and mortality hold sway, so far as the body is concerned. When he appears in his resurrection garments of glory and beauty, death shall have been swallowed up in victory, and mortality swallowed up of life. To speak of perfect bliss, while the spirit is unclothed and the body mingled with the dust, is a contradiction.
With Christ, Which Is Far Better
There are, I believe, only four places in the New Testament where the state of the unclothed spirit is spoken of, and none give a full description of that state. When contrasting it with our present painful and trying condition, the Apostle says, “It is far better.” Yes, truly, it is “far better” to be away from a scene of strife and turmoil, but this does not constitute the summit of blessedness. How very differently the Holy Spirit speaks of the resurrection state! The glories connected with it will constitute the very consummation of the believer’s joy and blessedness; until then, he is but a prisoner of hope. The patriarchs, the prophets, the apostles, the noble army of martyrs — all our beloved brethren who have gone before us — yea, and the Master Himself — all wait for the morning of resurrection. Every scattered member of the flock of Christ must be gathered into the heavenly fold before the festivities of the kingdom can commence.
Thus we see the vast importance of being rightly instructed as to the nature of our hope. When we know what we are hoping for, we are able to give an answer, for a man’s life is always influenced by his genuine hopes. If a man is an heir to an estate, his life is influenced by the hope of inheriting it. If we knew more of the power of the Spirit as “the earnest of our inheritance,” instead of disputing about the time or manner of our Master’s arrival, we should, as “prisoners of hope,” be eagerly looking forth from our prison windows and saying, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”
C. H. Mackintosh, adapted