THE CHRISTIAN READY TO GIVE AN ACCOUNT OF HIS HOPE
1Pe_3:15. Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.
THE Christian’s life must of necessity appear strange to those who know not the principles by which he is actuated. They see a friend or relative pause amidst the crowd of his associates, and retrace, in opposition to them, all the steps he has trodden throughout his whole life. Perhaps he was highly respected; and he now subjects himself to ridicule and contempt, from those who once held him in estimation. Perhaps he had fair prospects of advancement in the world, which now, by what are called his fanatical and over-righteous proceedings, he abandons. He once seemed happy in the enjoyment of all that the world could give him; and now he is turning his back upon it all, and following after phantoms of his own imagination. What can all this mean? Whence does it proceed? Is it the effect of a disturbed imagination? Is it from a desire after notoriety and distinction? or is it the fruit of deliberate hypocrisy? What has he seen, what has he found, that can account for such a change in his conduct?
Such questions will arise in the minds of many. Many indeed will not trouble themselves with making such inquiries. A shorter method with them is to revile and persecute, if by any means they may deter this supposed enthusiast from persisting in his folly: but others, who are more candid, will be glad of information, in order that they may be able to form some judgment about the proceedings which appear at first sight so unaccountable.
Now with respect to the former of these, the open persecutors, the Christian has nothing to do, but to commit his cause to God, and to go forward in humble dependence upon him: but with respect to the latter, he should gladly rise to the occasion, and “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh him a reason of the hope that is in him with meekness and fear.”
You will perceive that the principle by which the Christian is carried forward, is hope—“a hope that is within him.” What the Christian’s hope is, will form the first point for our inquiry. His duty in relation to it shall then, in the next place, be set before you.
What is the hope by which the Christian is carried forward?
Whatever may be thought of it,
It is a glorious hope—
[It has respect to all that the soul of man can need, and to all that God himself can bestow. Contemplate man as a sinner, redeemed from sin and death through the blood of God’s only dear Son, who at the same time has purchased for him all the glory and felicity of heaven: hope fixes upon all these things as promised to the penitent and believing soul. Pardon and acceptance with a reconciled God; fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and a constant communication of grace and peace out of his fulness; the preserving and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit; victory over death and hell; and an everlasting possession of heaven as a rightful inheritance;—all is apprehended by the believing Christian as his true and proper portion: by hope, he surveys it all, anticipates it all, enjoys it all. How wonderful! how surpassing all conception! Yet “to a lively hope of all these things is every child of God begotten [Note: 1Pe_1:3.].”]
It is a well-founded hope—
[It may well be asked, What warrant has the Christian to indulge such a hope as this? Is it a mere conceit of his own, an expectation unauthorized and presumptuous? No: it is a hope founded upon the promise and oath of the immutable Jehovah. God has revealed a way of salvation, through the blood and righteousness of his only-begotten Son; and has promised to accept to mercy all who shall come to him in the name of Christ. To all such, without exception, he has engaged to give all the blessings both of grace and glory. And in resting on his engagements, the believer cannot be deceived: for “God cannot lie,”—“cannot deny himself.”
The Christian has a further ground of hope, in his own actual experience of these things: for in coming to God through Christ, he has found peace to his soul: he has received grace, whereby he is enabled to serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: and “through the hope that is in him he does actually purify himself, even as Christ is pure [Note: 1Jn_3:3.].”
Here then he stands as upon a rock, that defies the assaults whether of men or devils.]
It is a hope that raises him up above all the things of time and sense—
[In the prospect of all the blessings that are promised to him, how empty and insignificant do all earthly things appear! They are regarded by him as the dust upon the balance, yea, as lighter than vanity itself. However important the concerns of this world may seem, they are but for a moment: whereas the objects of the Christian’s hope are everlasting. Nor are the sufferings of this present world, how formidable soever in themselves, regarded by him as worthy of any consideration, in comparison of the glory which he sees revealed before his eyes, and which he expects shortly to inherit [Note: Rom_8:18.]. Here is the great secret of all his movements. Even in this life a man will endure much labour and self-denial, in order to obtain some great advantage: what then will not a man both do and suffer, who has all the glory of heaven in view, and an assured prospect of attaining it, if only he “hold on his way,” and “be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel?”]
Such being the Christian’s hope, let us inquire,
What is his duty in relation to it?
The principle which operates so forcibly on the Christian’s mind cannot be fully appreciated by one who is a stranger to it in his own soul: yet may it, by a judicious statement, be brought so far within the view of an unenlightened mind, as to carry conviction with it to the heart and conscience: and every one who professes it should be ready to afford to an inquirer all possible satisfaction respecting it: he should “be ready to give to every one a reason of the hope that is in him:”
With frankness and fidelity—
[It is here supposed that an inquiry is made respecting it: for otherwise it is by no means expedient that a Christian be bringing forward his own personal experience, and making that the subject of conversation. To do this is hateful. St. Paul, when forced by the accusations of his enemies to vindicate himself, and to declare the experience of his soul, again and again, with indignation, as it were, against himself, says, “I speak as a fool.” And, where it is done without necessity, it is as strong a proof of a vain and weak mind as can well be conceived. But where a man asks us a reason of the hope that is in us, we should readily and cheerfully give him an answer. We should not be ashamed of our principles. We should never doubt whether they will bear us out, provided they be perspicuously and justly stated. We should candidly state, That we are sinners, deserving of God’s wrath and indignation: that God has sent his only-begotten Son to die for us: that through his precious blood we hope and believe that we have obtained the forgiveness of all our sins. We should then state our conviction, that sinners redeemed with so inestimable a price are bound to consecrate themselves to him, and, above all things, to seek the glory of his great name. We should further avow our full persuasion, that in the day of judgment we shall all be dealt with according to our works; that those who have suffered any thing to stand in competition with their duty to Christ, will assuredly be cast out as wicked and unprofitable servants; but that they who have loved, and served, and honoured him with their whole hearts, shall be applauded by him as good and faithful servants, and enter for ever into the joy of their Lord. We may then appeal to the most prejudiced mind, and ask, Whether, with such views and principles, it be not our bounden duty to act as we do?
This kind of statement should be made “readily,” to all without exception who desire to hear it, and are ready to attend to it. Whether they be more or less candid in their inquiries, we should account it a valuable opportunity to set before them the leading truths of Christianity; and we should avail ourselves of it, with a view at least to silence their objections, and, if it may please God, to convert and save their souls.]
With meekness and fear—
[There is, not unfrequently, found amongst the professors of religion a very unhallowed boldness and forwardness in declaring their sentiments. This is extremely indecorous, and odious in the eyes both of God and man. Though, as far as respects the truth itself, we should have no hesitation in declaring it, yet we should be much on our guard against any thing harsh or acrimonious in our manner of declaring it. Suavity and kindness become us on all occasions, and especially when speaking on the things of God. We must speak the truth indeed, whether it be palatable or not: but we must “speak the truth in love,” and “instruct in meekness them that oppose themselves, if God peradventure may give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth that so they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, by whom they have been taken captive at his will [Note: 2Ti_2:25-26.].” A Christian on such occasions must bear in mind how much the honour of God is involved in his conduct; and how much, humanly speaking, the salvation of others may depend on him. By an indiscreet mode of vindicating the truth, he may shut the ears, and harden the hearts of many; and so embitter their minds, as to make them determined haters and despisers of vital godliness: but by a meek, modest, affectionate, and prudent statement, he may remove their prejudices, and lead them to a candid examination of their own state before God. Hence then he should speak “with fear,” even as the Apostle Paul himself did at Corinth, where, as he himself tells us, “he was among them in weakness and fear and much trembling [Note: 1Co_2:3.].” By thus combining meekness with fidelity, and fear with zeal, he may hope that he shall be the means of silencing opposers, and of winning many who would never have attended to the written or preached word [Note: 1Pe_3:1-2.].]
I would yet further enforce the exhortation in our text, with such advice as naturally arises out of it—
Let it be the daily labour of your lives to be such as our text requires:
Be intelligent Christians—
[You ought to be able to “give to every inquirer a reason of the hope that is in you.” It is a disgrace to a Christian not to possess such a measure of divine knowledge, as shall qualify him for this. It is not necessary that every Christian should be a disputant, and be able to enter into theological controversies: but every man should be able to answer this question, “Why are you a Christian?” Alas! the generality of Christians, so called, can assign no better reason for being Christians, than a Turk can for being a Mahometan. But to all such I must say, You have yet to learn what a scriptural hope is; and have only “the hope of an hypocrite, which will be swept away like a spider’s web.” I beseech you all then to study the Scriptures with all diligence; and to pray unto God, that you may by them be made wise unto everlasting salvation.]
Be steadfast Christians—
[You must expect that your faith and patience will be tried: but you must not give way to fear, or be diverted from your duty by any consideration whatever. There should be in you such a hope, as, like an anchor of the soul, shall keep you steadfast amidst all the storms and tempests with which you may be assailed [Note: Heb_6:19.]. By means of this divine principle you should be realizing all the glories of the eternal world; in the view of which, all earthly glories will sink into insignificance, and all earthly trials appear “light and momentary [Note: 2Co_4:17-18.].” Survey then the inheritance to which you are begotten: take Pisgah views of the promised land: and then you shall be enabled to say respecting every thing that may occur, “None of these things move me; neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I may but finish my course with joy.”]
Be humble Christians—
[Humility is the root and summit of Christian perfection. If men see you offended and irritated by the unkind usage which you experience, they will say, “Wherein are their principles superior to ours; or their conduct better than ours? They pretend to possess a hope that lifts up their souls in an extraordinary degree: but wherein does it shew itself? and what do they more than others? It is no uncommon thing for persons professing godliness to feel towards their revilers and persecutors the very same contempt and hatred which their persecutors manifest towards them. But this is a proof, that, whatever they may profess of love to Christ, they have never attained “the mind that was in Christ.” If you would be Christians indeed, you must resemble Him “who was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and was dumb before his persecutors, even as a sheep before its shearers is dumb,” and who in the very agonies of crucifixion prayed for his murderers. So must you: you must “shew all meekness towards all men,” and be more fearful of dishonouring God, or of casting a stumbling-block before your enemies, by any thing hasty or ill-advised, than of suffering all that the most bitter persecutors can inflict upon you. Thus “letting patience have its perfect work, you will be perfect and entire, wanting nothing [Note: Jam_1:4.].”]