Lastly, the effort that is needed to keep hold of the hope.
The writer uses very emphatic words. He not only speaks about holding it fast, but about doing so unto “the end,” duplicating, as it were, the idea of effort in the grasp and declaring that that effort is to be continuous until the time when hope is lost in fruition. Now, I need not remind you – we can all remind ourselves, if we think – of the many outward difficulties and hindrances that rise to the vigor and vitality of this Christian hope. These may be so dealt with by us that they become subservient to the vitality and vigor but, by reason of our weakness, they often draw us away from Christ and become distractions instead of helps. These are perpetually at work in order to make the Christian hope less vivid, to blur the outlines and dim the colors of the picture which it paints. Our own weaknesses and worldliness and clinging loves that twine themselves round creatures of earth make it hard for us to soar in devout contemplation high enough to leave the mists below and see the blue and the sun. We are all short-sighted in spiritual matters and cannot see the things that are far off, and the fact that they are far off makes them unreal to many of us. Therefore, unless there be constant effort directed to retain the vividness of our impression of the things that are unseen, the vulgar, intrusive, flashing brightness of the poor, paltry present will dim them all to our eyes.
Whilst, then, there is a constant need for effort – and, without it, we shall certainly lose our apprehension of the unseen blessedness (to hope in which is our very life) – a great deal can be done by making direct efforts to cultivate these graces of which I have been speaking, and that from which they come. Though by no means altogether so, it is very much a matter of will and resolution whether Christian people shall be brave and exultant, or whether they shall go mourning all their days, never taking up the privileges which they possess. If you were going to say every morning, “Now, I am going to try, today, to keep myself up on a high level – as though I were on an overhead railway – and to travel there,” you would find it possible to do it. A man cannot make himself glad by saying, “Now, I am determined that I will be glad,” but the moods and changing emotions of our Christian lives, which repose upon facts that do not change, are very largely under our own control, and it is generally our own fault if we find our confidence oozing out at our finger-ends, and an unnameable and vague sadness – of which we scarcely know the cause – wrapping our souls like a chill November mist. One honest and vigorous resolution would rend the mist, in nine cases out of ten, and we should find that it was all the product of the undrained ditches in our own hearts.
But, whilst a great deal can be done by a dead lift of resolution and by governing our feelings and keeping a tight hand upon our emotions, far more can be done by the simpler and, in some respects, easier and certainly more effectual way of keeping our eyes fixed upon the Person and the facts on which our hope is grounded and from which our courage flows. That is to say, look at Jesus Christ and keep by His side, and look into His eyes until you can see love gleaming in them, and touch His pierced hands until you can feel the power trickling from His fingers into your weakness, and rest on the assurances of His faithful word until the unseen and far off good that He has promised is more real than the little goods close beside you. You can cultivate hope most effectually by gazing upon the things unseen and, above all, on the Person who “is our hope.” If only we will keep ourselves – by faith, love, aspiration, and communion of thought and feeling and desire, near to Him, He will stand beside us and repeat to us the old word that was so frequent upon His lips, “Fear not,” and courage will come. He will say, too, as He did in the hour of deepest sorrow, “These things have I spoken unto you that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full,” and our triumphant exultation will rise like water in a reservoir when a pure river flows into it. He will say, too, “What and where I am, there shall also My servant be,” and the living hope that comes from union with Him will make us victors over all that is at enmity with joy, and all that is sad, frowning, threatening, and perilous in our present lives.
So, dear brethren, we are saved by hope, and this hope that we have “has passed within the veil,” with our great High Priest, and there we can anchor our souls and fear not shipwreck, but ride out every storm. – Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), from a meditation on Hebrews 3.6.