Man was not made for the present, and the present was never intended to satisfy him. Whatever might have been man’s destiny had he remained unfallen, we know that his fall was foreseen, and that the One for whom all things were made (see Col. 1: 16), was not “the first man out of [the] earth, made of dust”, but “the second man, out of heaven” (1 Cor. 15: 47). It is in association with His glory, soon to be revealed, that we find the true destiny of mankind—that for which man was created, and for which the heavens and the earth were formed. When all things in heaven and in earth are headed up in Christ (see Eph. 1: 10), then, and not till then, will the great ends of creation and redemption—full glory to God and full blessing to the creature— be consummated. It is not in the present scene that the glory of God is accomplished and manifested to perfection. Neither is it in man’s hurried transit from the cradle to the grave that the destinies of his being are fulfilled. The present is leading on to the full display of God’s glory in a day to come, and it is in the present that all the seeds of man’s destiny are sown, but it is in the future that the harvest shall be reaped, and God be glorified in the result. It is for the future, not the present, that man exists.
The present was never designed to satisfy man. Let the character of the present and the extent of the future be what they may, the present fails to satisfy, and it is for the future the heart yearns. The child of two or three aspires to the schoolboy’s lot, the schoolboy pants to be a youth, the youth to be a man, and the man, whatever his circumstances, does not find there what satisfies his heart, but reaches after what the future holds out to view. It is not in man to be satisfied with the present—it is the future which he expects to bring him contentment, even if his aspirations are limited to this narrow world and his short life. It is for the future not the present that man lives, just as it is for the future, not the present, that man was made.
It is with the future that hope has to do. Hope that is seen “is not hope; for what any one sees, why does he also hope?” (Rom. 8: 24). It is the Christian’s hope to which this Scripture refers, but what is said is true of any hope. What we hope for is that which we do not possess at present—and it is thus that hope becomes such a stimulus to exertion a solace in affliction and a stay when no other stay remains. Extinguish hope and happiness is gone. Let the faintest glimmering of hope remain and a man’s misery is not complete.
What is more powerful in its influence than hope? It is the hope of harvest that cheers the farmer in his toil. The exile is sustained in his wanderings by the hope of once more beholding his native land. The merchant is stimulated by the hope of gain, the student by the prospect of success, the athlete by the hope of victory. Take away from these the hope of securing the objects they pursue and all motive to exertion or endurance is lost.
However, if the present thus invariably fail to satisfy, and if hope is limited to this world and this life, it follows that, as those things which have been hoped for come to be possessed, they will be found to be as unsatisfying as everything else. Thus the history of man away from God is the history of disappointed hopes. Either the object of hope is never attained, or when it is reached, that which has been bright in hope becomes dull in possession, and the heart longs for something else. It is, of course, of the natural heart that I am speaking. The sum of all that it seeks, as well as of all that it possesses, is only “vanity and a striving after the wind” (Eccles. 4: 16).
What an infinite mercy it is, amid the bustle and excitement of this vain and fleeting world, that any should have their attention arrested by eternal realities! And when the light of eternity shines into the soul, how dreadful the conviction that one’s life has been spent in sin and rebellion against God and wasted in pursuing that which does not satisfy! As long as my thoughts are limited to time and sense, I may regard nothing but myself or, what really amounts to the same thing, my immediate circle. But the moment eternity is seriously considered, God must be brought in, and then I find that all my restless longing and searching after something to satisfy and fill my heart is the fruit of that heart having been alienated from God. When once this discovery is made, the question ceases to be, How am I to be satisfied? and becomes, How is a holy God to be satisfied? Happy the man whose attention is thoroughly aroused to such inquiries! Much happier is he who has had them all resolved by the light which the Gospel affords as to the Person and work of Christ!
Dear Christian reader, you have not only had such questions awakened in your conscience, but you have had them satisfactorily answered. You have understood that if you cannot satisfy yourself it is vain to suppose that you can satisfy God. You no longer need to go hither and thither, always seeking but never finding. Blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ” (Eph. 1: 3), your heart has been weaned from the ten thousand objects on which it was once wasted. You, thank God, are in the gain of the Saviour’s words to the woman at Sychar’s well “whosoever drinks of the water which I shall give him shall never thirst for ever, but the water which I shall give him shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into eternal life” (John 4: 14). The secret of happiness—true, satisfying, unfailing enjoyment—has been disclosed to you.
Why do some speak then, of the Christian’s hope? It is true that in this scene the believer has tasted real happiness, by the Spirit, in the knowledge of the Father, and of Jesus Christ whom He has sent. But this is not to say that he has the full, perfect, unhindered enjoyment of this happiness. This is still before him as the object of his hope. So the Christian is not satisfied any more than the unbeliever? Certainly it is quite true that in one sense the Christian is not satisfied—but it is in a very different way from that in which the unbeliever is not satisfied. The man of the world is not satisfied because he knows nothing which can satisfy him, either now, or at any time. The Christian knows One who can satisfy. He knows Christ, he possesses Christ, he enjoys Christ. Christ is his life, his peace and his joy. However, as yet he has never seen Christ. It is by faith he knows, by faith he possesses and by faith he enjoys, but the more he knows and enjoys the Lord, the more he longs to behold Him. His current position is as Peter describes it: “whom, having not seen, ye love; on whom [though] not now looking, but believing, ye exult with joy unspeakable and filled with [the] glory, receiving the end of your faith, [the] salvation of [your] souls” (1 Pet. 1: 8, 9). Yes my brethren, all this is true, but to see Christ, to have the salvation which He wrought on the cross applied to our bodies as well as our souls, to behold His glory which His Father has given Him, to be with Him in the Father’s house above— all this and far more is what we wait for. He—“Christ Jesus”—is “our hope” (1 Tim. 1: 1). Blessed prospect!