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THE HOPE OF THE GOSPEL

BY

GEORGE MACDONALD




CONTENTS


SALVATION FROM SIN

THE REMISSION OF SINS

JESUS IN THE WORLD

JESUS AND HIS FELLOW TOWNSMEN

THE HEIRS OF HEAVEN AND EARTH

SORROW THE PLEDGE OF JOY

GOD'S FAMILY

THE REWARD OF OBEDIENCE

THE YOKE OF JESUS

THE SALT AND THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

THE RIGHT HAND AND THE LEFT

THE HOPE OF THE UNIVERSE




_SALVATION FROM SIN_.

- and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from
their sins. - _Matthew_ i. 21.


I would help some to understand what Jesus came from the home of our
Father to be to us and do for us. Everything in the world is more or
less misunderstood at first: we have to learn what it is, and come at
length to see that it must be so, that it could not be otherwise. Then
we know it; and we never know a thing _really_ until we know it thus.

I presume there is scarce a human being who, resolved to speak openly,
would not confess to having something that plagued him, something from
which he would gladly be free, something rendering it impossible for
him, at the moment, to regard life as an altogether good thing. Most
men, I presume, imagine that, free of such and such things antagonistic,
life would be an unmingled satisfaction, worthy of being prolonged
indefinitely. The causes of their discomfort are of all kinds, and the
degrees of it reach from simple uneasiness to a misery such as makes
annihilation the highest hope of the sufferer who can persuade himself
of its possibility. Perhaps the greater part of the energy of this
world's life goes forth in the endeavour to rid itself of discomfort.
Some, to escape it, leave their natural surroundings behind them, and
with strong and continuous effort keep rising in the social scale, to
discover at every new ascent fresh trouble, as they think, awaiting
them, whereas in truth they have brought the trouble with them. Others,
making haste to be rich, are slow to find out that the poverty of their
souls, none the less that their purses are filling, will yet keep them
unhappy. Some court endless change, nor know that on themselves the
change must pass that will set them free. Others expand their souls with
knowledge, only to find that content will not dwell in the great house
they have built. To number the varieties of human endeavour to escape
discomfort would be to enumerate all the modes of such life as does not
know how to live. All seek the thing whose defect appears the _cause_ of
their misery, and is but the variable _occasion_ of it, the cause of the
shape it takes, not of the misery itself; for, when one apparent cause
is removed, another at once succeeds. The real cause of his trouble is a
something the man has not perhaps recognized as even existent; in any
case he is not yet acquainted with its true nature.

However absurd the statement may appear to one who has not yet
discovered the fact for himself, the cause of every man's discomfort is
evil, moral evil - first of all, evil in himself, his own sin, his own
wrongness, his own unrightness; and then, evil in those he loves: with
this latter I have not now to deal; the only way to get rid of it, is
for the man to get rid of his own sin. No special sin may be
recognizable as having caused this or that special physical
discomfort - which may indeed have originated with some ancestor; but
evil in ourselves is the cause of its continuance, the source of its
necessity, and the preventive of that patience which would soon take
from it, or at least blunt its sting. The evil is _essentially_
unnecessary, and passes with the attainment of the object for which it
is permitted - namely, the development of pure will in man; the suffering
also is essentially unnecessary, but while the evil lasts, the
suffering, whether consequent or merely concomitant, is absolutely
necessary. Foolish is the man, and there are many such men, who would
rid himself or his fellows of discomfort by setting the world right, by
waging war on the evils around him, while he neglects that integral part
of the world where lies his business, his first business - namely, his
own character and conduct. Were it possible - an absurd supposition - that
the world should thus be righted from the outside, it would yet be
impossible for the man who had contributed to the work, remaining what
he was, ever to enjoy the perfection of the result; himself not in tune
with the organ he had tuned, he must imagine it still a distracted,
jarring instrument. The philanthropist who regards the wrong as in the
race, forgetting that the race is made up of conscious and wrong
individuals, forgets also that wrong is always generated in and done by
an individual; that the wrongness exists in the individual, and by him
is passed over, as tendency, to the race; and that no evil can be cured
in the race, except by its being cured in its individuals: tendency is
not absolute evil; it is there that it may be resisted, not yielded to.
There is no way of making three men right but by making right each one
of the three; but a cure in one man who repents and turns, is a
beginning of the cure of the whole human race.

Even if a man's suffering be a far inheritance, for the curing of which
by faith and obedience this life would not be sufficiently long, faith
and obedience will yet render it endurable to the man, and overflow in
help to his fellow-sufferers. The groaning body, wrapt in the garment of
hope, will, with outstretched neck, look for its redemption, and endure.

The one cure for any organism, is to be set right - to have all its
parts brought into harmony with each other; the one comfort is to know
this cure in process. Rightness alone is cure. The return of the
organism to its true self, is its only possible ease. To free a man from
suffering, he must be set right, put in health; and the health at the
root of man's being, his rightness, is to be free from wrongness, that
is, from sin. A man is right when there is no wrong in him. The wrong,
the evil is in him; he must be set free from it. I do not mean set free
from the sins he has done: that will follow; I mean the sins he is
doing, or is capable of doing; the sins in his being which spoil his
nature - the wrongness in him - the evil he consents to; the sin he is,
which makes him do the sin he does.

To save a man from his sins, is to say to him, in sense perfect and
eternal, 'Rise up and walk. Be at liberty in thy essential being. Be
free as the son of God is free.' To do this for us, Jesus was born, and
remains born to all the ages. When misery drives a man to call out to
the source of his life, - and I take the increasing outcry against
existence as a sign of the growth of the race toward a sense of the need
of regeneration - the answer, I think, will come in a quickening of his
conscience. This earnest of the promised deliverance may not, in all
probability will not be what the man desires; he will want only to be
rid of his suffering; but that he cannot have, save in being delivered
from its essential root, a thing infinitely worse than any suffering it
can produce. If he will not have that deliverance, he must keep his
suffering. Through chastisement he will take at last the only way that
leads into the liberty of that which is and must be. There can be no
deliverance but to come out of his evil dream into the glory of God.

It is true that Jesus came, in delivering us from our sins, to deliver
us also from the painful consequences of our sins. But these
consequences exist by the one law of the universe, the true will of the
Perfect. That broken, that disobeyed by the creature, disorganization
renders suffering inevitable; it is the natural consequence of the
unnatural - and, in the perfection of God's creation, the result is
curative of the cause; the pain at least tends to the healing of the
breach. The Lord never came to deliver men from the consequences of
their sins while yet those sins remained: that would be to cast out of
window the medicine of cure while yet the man lay sick; to go dead
against the very laws of being. Yet men, loving their sins, and feeling
nothing of their dread hatefulness, have, consistently with their low
condition, constantly taken this word concerning the Lord to mean that
he came to save them from the punishment of their sins. The idea - the
miserable fancy rather - has terribly corrupted the preaching of the
gospel. The message of the good news has not been truly delivered.
Unable to believe in the forgiveness of their Father in heaven,
imagining him not at liberty to forgive, or incapable of forgiving
forthright; not really believing him God our Saviour, but a God bound,
either in his own nature or by a law above him and compulsory upon him,
to exact some recompense or satisfaction for sin, a multitude of
teaching men have taught their fellows that Jesus came to bear our
punishment and save us from hell. They have represented a result as the
object of his mission - the said result nowise to be desired by true man
save as consequent on the gain of his object. The mission of Jesus was
from the same source and with the same object as the punishment of our
sins. He came to work along with our punishment. He came to side with
it, and set us free from our sins. No man is safe from hell until he is
free from his sins; but a man to whom his sins, that is the evil things
in him, are a burden, while he may indeed sometimes feel as if he were
in hell, will soon have forgotten that ever he had any other hell to
think of than that of his sinful condition. For to him his sins are
hell; he would go to the other hell to be free of them; free of them,
hell itself would be endurable to him. For hell is God's and not the
devil's. Hell is on the side of God and man, to free the child of God
from the corruption of death. Not one soul will ever be redeemed from
hell but by being saved from his sins, from the evil in him. If hell be
needful to save him, hell will blaze, and the worm will writhe and bite,
until he takes refuge in the will of the Father. 'Salvation from hell,
is salvation as conceived by such to whom hell and not evil is the
terror.' But if even for dread of hell a poor soul seek the Father, he
will be heard of him in his terror, and, taught of him to seek the
immeasurably greater gift, will in the greater receive the less.

There is another important misapprehension of the words of the
messengers of the good tidings - that they threaten us with punishment
because of the sins we have committed, whereas their message is of
forgiveness, not of vengeance; of deliverance, not of evil to come. Not
for anything he has committed do they threaten a man with the outer
darkness. Not for any or all of his sins that are past shall a man be
condemned; not for the worst of them needs he dread remaining
unforgiven. The sin he dwells in, the sin he will not come out of, is
the sole ruin of a man. His present, his live sins - those pervading his
thoughts and ruling his conduct; the sins he keeps doing, and will not
give up; the sins he is called to abandon, and clings to; the same sins
which are the cause of his misery, though he may not know it - these are
they for which he is even now condemned. It is true the memory of the
wrongs we have done is, or will become very bitter; but not for those is
condemnation; and if that in our character which made them possible were
abolished, remorse would lose its worst bitterness in the hope of future
amends. 'This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world,
and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were
evil.'

It is the indwelling badness, ready to produce bad actions, that we need
to be delivered from. Against this badness if a man will not strive, he
is left to commit evil and reap the consequences. To be saved from these
consequences, would be no deliverance; it would be an immediate, ever
deepening damnation. It is the evil in our being - no essential part of
it, thank God! - the miserable fact that the very child of God does not
care for his father and will not obey him, causing us to desire wrongly,
act wrongly, or, where we try not to act wrongly, yet making it
impossible for us not to feel wrongly - this is what he came to deliver
us from; - not the things we have done, but the possibility of doing such
things any more. With the departure of this possibility, and with the
hope of confession hereafter to those we have wronged, will depart also
the power over us of the evil things we have done, and so we shall be
saved from them also. The bad that lives in us, our evil judgments, our
unjust desires, our hate and pride and envy and greed and
self-satisfaction - these are the souls of our sins, our live sins, more
terrible than the bodies of our sins, namely the deeds we do, inasmuch
as they not only produce these loathsome things, but make us loathsome
as they. Our wrong deeds are our dead works; our evil thoughts are our
live sins. These, the essential opposites of faith and love, the sins
that dwell and work in us, are the sins from which Jesus came to deliver
us. When we turn against them and refuse to obey them, they rise in
fierce insistence, but the same moment begin to die. We are then on the
Lord's side, as he has always been on ours, and he begins to deliver us
from them.

Anything in you, which, in your own child, would make you feel him not
so pleasant as you would have him, is something wrong. This may mean
much to one, little or nothing to another. Things in a child which to
one parent would not seem worth minding, would fill another with horror.
After his moral development, where the one parent would smile, the other
would look aghast, perceiving both the present evil, and the
serpent-brood to follow. But as the love of him who is love, transcends
ours as the heavens are higher than the earth, so must he desire in his
child infinitely more than the most jealous love of the best mother can
desire in hers. He would have him rid of all discontent, all fear, all
grudging, all bitterness in word or thought, all gauging and measuring
of his own with a different rod from that he would apply to another's.
He will have no curling of the lip; no indifference in him to the man
whose service in any form he uses; no desire to excel another, no
contentment at gaining by his loss. He will not have him receive the
smallest service without gratitude; would not hear from him a tone to
jar the heart of another, a word to make it ache, be the ache ever so
transient. From such, as from all other sins, Jesus was born to deliver
us; not, primarily, or by itself, from the punishment of any of them.
When all are gone, the holy punishment will have departed also. He came
to make us good, and therein blessed children.

One master-sin is at the root of all the rest. It is no individual
action, or anything that comes of mood, or passion; it is the
non-recognition by the man, and consequent inactivity in him, of the
highest of all relations, that relation which is the root and first
essential condition of every other true relation of or in the human
soul. It is the absence in the man of harmony with the being whose
thought is the man's existence, whose word is the man's power of
thought. It is true that, being thus his offspring, God, as St Paul
affirms, cannot be far from any one of us: were we not in closest
contact of creating and created, we could not exist; as we have in us
no power to be, so have we none to continue being; but there is a closer
contact still, as absolutely necessary to our well-being and highest
existence, as the other to our being at all, to the mere capacity of
faring well or ill. For the highest creation of God in man is his will,
and until the highest in man meets the highest in God, their true
relation is not yet a spiritual fact. The flower lies in the root, but
the root is not the flower. The relation exists, but while one of the
parties neither knows, loves, nor acts upon it, the relation is, as it
were, yet unborn. The highest in man is neither his intellect nor his
imagination nor his reason; all are inferior to his will, and indeed, in
a grand way, dependent upon it: his will must meet God's - a will
_distinct_ from God's, else were no _harmony_ possible between them. Not
the less, therefore, but the more, is all God's. For God creates in the
man the power to will His will. It may cost God a suffering man can
never know, to bring the man to the point at which he will will His
will; but when he is brought to that point, and declares for the truth,
that is, for the will of God, he becomes one with God, and the end of
God in the man's creation, the end for which Jesus was born and died, is
gained. The man is saved from his sins, and the universe flowers yet
again in his redemption. But I would not be supposed, from what I have
said, to imagine the Lord without sympathy for the sorrows and pains
which reveal what sin is, and by means of which he would make men sick
of sin. With everything human he sympathizes. Evil is not human; it is
the defect and opposite of the human; but the suffering that follows it
is human, belonging of necessity to the human that has sinned: while it
is by cause of sin, suffering is _for_ the sinner, that he may be
delivered from his sin. Jesus is in himself aware of every human pain.
He feels it also. In him too it is pain. With the energy of tenderest
love he wills his brothers and sisters free, that he may fill them to
overflowing with that essential thing, joy. For that they were indeed
created. But the moment they exist, truth becomes the first thing, not
happiness; and he must make them true. Were it possible, however, for
pain to continue after evil was gone, he would never rest while one ache
was yet in the world. Perfect in sympathy, he feels in himself, I say,
the tortured presence of every nerve that lacks its repose. The man may
recognize the evil in him only as pain; he may know little and care
nothing about his sins; yet is the Lord sorry for his pain. He cries
aloud, 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will
give you rest.' He does not say, 'Come unto me, all ye that feel the
burden of your sins;' he opens his arms to all weary enough to come to
him in the poorest hope of rest. Right gladly would he free them from
their misery - but he knows only one way: he will teach them to be like
himself, meek and lowly, bearing with gladness the yoke of his father's
will. This is the one, the only right, the only possible way of freeing
them from their sins, the cause of their unrest. With them the weariness
comes first; with him the sins: there is but one cure for both - the will
of the Father. That which is his joy will be their deliverance! He might
indeed, it may be, take from them the human, send them down to some
lower stage of being, and so free them from suffering - but that must be
either a descent toward annihilation, or a fresh beginning to grow up
again toward the region of suffering they have left; for that which is
not growing must at length die out of creation. The disobedient and
selfish would fain in the hell of their hearts possess the liberty and
gladness that belong to purity and love, but they cannot have them; they
are weary and heavy-laden, both with what they are, and because of what
they were made for but are not. The Lord knows what they need; they know
only what they want. They want ease; he knows they need purity. Their
very existence is an evil, of which, but for his resolve to purify them,
their maker must rid his universe. How can he keep in his sight a foul
presence? Must the creator send forth his virtue to hold alive a thing
that will be evil - a thing that ought not to be, that has no claim but
to cease? The Lord himself would not live save with an existence
absolutely good.

It may be my reader will desire me to say _how_ the Lord will deliver
him from his sins. That is like the lawyer's 'Who is my neighbour?' The
spirit of such a mode of receiving the offer of the Lord's deliverance,
is the root of all the horrors of a corrupt theology, so acceptable to
those who love weak and beggarly hornbooks of religion. Such questions
spring from the passion for the fruit of the tree of knowledge, not the
fruit of the tree of life. Men would understand: they do not care to
_obey_, - understand where it is impossible they should understand save
by obeying. They would search into the work of the Lord instead of doing
their part in it - thus making it impossible both for the Lord to go on
with his work, and for themselves to become capable of seeing and
understanding what he does. Instead of immediately obeying the Lord of
life, the one condition upon which he can help them, and in itself the
beginning of their deliverance, they set themselves to question their
unenlightened intellects as to his plans for their deliverance - and not
merely how he means to effect it, but how he can be able to effect it.
They would bind their Samson until they have scanned his limbs and
thews. Incapable of understanding the first motions of freedom in
themselves, they proceed to interpret the riches of his divine soul in
terms of their own beggarly notions, to paraphrase his glorious verse
into their own paltry commercial prose; and then, in the growing
presumption of imagined success, to insist upon their neighbours'
acceptance of their distorted shadows of 'the plan of salvation' as the
truth of him in whom is no darkness, and the one condition of their
acceptance with him. They delay setting their foot on the stair which
alone can lead them to the house of wisdom, until they shall have
determined the material and mode of its construction. For the sake of
knowing, they postpone that which alone can enable them to know, and
substitute for the true understanding which lies beyond, a false
persuasion that they already understand. They will not accept, that is,
act upon, their highest privilege, that of obeying the Son of God. It is
on them that do his will, that the day dawns; to them the day-star
arises in their hearts. Obedience is the soul of knowledge.

By obedience, I intend no kind of obedience to man, or submission to
authority claimed by man or community of men. I mean obedience to the
will of the Father, however revealed in our conscience.

God forbid I should seem to despise understanding. The New Testament is
full of urgings to understand. Our whole life, to be life at all, must
be a growth in understanding. What I cry out upon is the
misunderstanding that comes of man's endeavour to understand while not
obeying. Upon obedience our energy must be spent; understanding will
follow. Not anxious to know our duty, or knowing it and not doing it,
how shall we understand that which only a true heart and a clean soul
can ever understand? The power in us that would understand were it free,
lies in the bonds of imperfection and impurity, and is therefore
incapable of judging the divine. It cannot see the truth. If it could
see it, it would not know it, and would not have it. Until a man begins
to obey, the light that is in him is darkness.

Any honest soul may understand this much, however - for it is a thing we
may of ourselves judge to be right - that the Lord cannot save a man from
his sins while he holds to his sins. An omnipotence that could do and
not do the same thing at the same moment, were an idea too absurd for
mockery; an omnipotence that could at once make a man a free man, and
leave him a self-degraded slave - make him the very likeness of God, and
good only because he could not help being good, would be an idea of the
same character - equally absurd, equally self-contradictory.

But the Lord is not unreasonable; he requires no high motives where
such could not yet exist. He does not say, 'You must be sorry for your
sins, or you need not come to me:' to be sorry for his sins a man must
love God and man, and love is the very thing that has to be developed in
him. It is but common sense that a man, longing to be freed from
suffering, or made able to bear it, should betake himself to the Power
by whom he is. Equally is it common sense that, if a man would be
delivered from the evil in him, he must himself begin to cast it out,
himself begin to disobey it, and work righteousness. As much as either
is it common sense that a man should look for and expect the help of his
Father in the endeavour. Alone, he might labour to all eternity and not
succeed. He who has not made himself, cannot set himself right without


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