Our Blessed Hope
Charles Naylor, 1941
Yesterday a funeral passed our home. The solemn procession moved slowly onward toward the cemetery gate a few squares away. The muffled sounds of the passing cars of a funeral cortege as they pass my window, always tell a melancholy tale. A beloved voice is silent forever to earth. A heart has ceased to beat. A life has reached its end. Solemnly the words "Dust to dust, and ashes to ashes" are spoken. The mourning friends go their way. Only a newly made mound in the cemetery remains to tell the story.
What, is this all? Is dust to dust and ashes to ashes the final end of the being who was once vibrant with life and joyous with vigorous energy? To every soul there comes the age-old inquiry, "If a man dies—shall he live again?"
Time summons all, both rich and poor, both high and low, both great and small, to stand before the open grave and to answer in their inmost souls this old query. Let us follow the quiet procession, and let us inquire of each comer, what is his hope for the future?
Here comes a modern Sadducee. He is a materialist. He does not believe in spiritual realities. To him, man is only brother of the beast. Death ends all. As one such said to me, "A man is just like a horse; when he dies, that is the end." The open grave closes above the form beloved to him, and leaves him bereaved of hope. To him, life comes to its end upon a great cliff, beyond which there is nothing but space. To him the grave is a melancholy place. It is the end of all his plans and dreams, of all his hopes and expectations. When those whom he loves go from him at the call of death—it leaves only a measureless void which nothing can ever fill, and which he never expects to be filled.
Behind the materialist comes the atheist, with eyes downcast. To him there is no God, no power which can say to death, "Stand back." For him there is no voice of consolation or of comfort. Hope is dead—her voice is no longer heard.
Next in order comes the deist. He believes in God, but the God in whom he believes is a faraway, unknown being who has no part in the life or death of man, who has no interest in what concerns him—a God who has gone off and forgotten mankind. The deist pauses beside the newly made grave. This to him is the end of all. He also is without hope beyond it.
After him an agnostic draws near. He does not know; he cannot find out. Perhaps life has not come to its final conclusion; he does not know. There may be something beyond the grave; he cannot tell. He knows nothing for certain. He is in doubt about everything. He knows no way to resolve his doubts. And so he stands before the newly made grave, and the wreath that he places upon it, is bewildering question.
Next comes the infidel. Perhaps there is a sneering smile upon his face. Frankly, he does not believe. He knows the Bible says that there will be a resurrection, but in his judgment—the Bible is not God's book. So he believes only what it pleases him to believe of the present or the future. Perhaps he believes in immortality, but what does he believe of it, and upon what grounds does he believe it? If he believes in the resurrection, he does not know why he believes it. His hope has no true basis. He rejects the only basis that is given him, and so if he will but admit it, he must, like the agnostic, only question.
Next comes the philosopher. His philosophy may show him there is a life beyond the grave. It may say to him that since the race believes in immortality, since they have an inner consciousness of immortality, and since so many things in nature seem to argue from analogy that there shall be a resurrection—he may conclude there is a resurrection, that there is a life beyond the grave. But what that life is like, or whether it is a certainty—he cannot tell. His philosophy falters. It is insufficient. And he, like those before him, he is left to question.
Next comes the scientist. His science has not found the human soul. He does not know it as an entity. He cannot weigh it or measure it. The laws of chemistry do not reveal it. He finds strange things in man which he cannot explain. But they do not tell him of immortality. He does not know from his science, whether there is anything beyond the grave.
Behind him comes the worldling, who finds his all in self, or pleasure, or riches, or fame. He lives for this world alone. He has not stopped to inquire about eternity. He has been quite content to occupy himself with the things of the present life. He has scarcely thought about anything beyond the grave.
Indeed, he will not let the thought of the grave come into his mind when he can help it. Perhaps he believes in immortality in a casual way, but it seems as nothing to him. It is unreal, uncertain; and if he has a dim, vague hope, it is a hope based on nothing trustworthy, nothing that can be the real basis of a hope. And he, like those before him, is one of those whom the Bible pictured as "having no hope."
Look again at this company and you will see them all silent before the newly made grave. No voice comforts them; they have no words to comfort another. For them, death is a leap into the dark. Beyond is only the great unknown.
Only the Christian has hope in his death. His hope in death is not a hope in himself. His hope is in a person, the Lord Jesus Christ—he who was dead, but is alive forevermore. He believes in him who said, "I am the resurrection and the life: he who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." And this hope is called our "blessed hope"—it is the one great hope of the Christian.
As we have this hope, death has no terrors for us, and we can say, "O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?" And so it comes that believing this, so many Christians go down into the valley of the shadow of death, with a smile of joy upon their countenances and with an unwavering faith in their hearts. Only the eye of faith sees beyond the grave. Only the tongue that speaks through faith, has words to break the silence with the clear joy tones of triumph. Faith stands before the newly made grave, and falters not. And the Christian, though sorrowful, is always rejoicing—for with the eye of faith he sees beyond the present into the glorious eternity, and his heart doubts not.
The Christian hope looks forward in expectancy of the coming of Jesus our Lord (Titus 2:13). We have hope in him, not merely for the present life, but for the life which is to come (I Corinthians 15:19; Acts 24:15). Through him we look forward to being "children of the resurrection," hoping and believing that it shall be according to his word that we shall nevermore die and that we shall be equal to the angels, that we shall possess everlasting life through the eternal ages and dwell at the right hand of God.
This hope of eternal life is not a new thing. It is older than the world. Paul speaks of the "hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began" (Titus 1:2). God planned eternal life for us. He promised it to us before we had an existence. And so we look forward with eager expectancy. Hope goes beyond the grave, and rejoices in the eternal ages of God. This is the blessed hope, the anchor of the Christian soul!