Post last updated on February 4, 2023
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For much of his adult life, Geerhardus Vos was a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, teaching there between the years of 1893 and 1932. He died in 1949 at the age of 87. In 2020, the Banner of Truth Trust republished an edition of Vos’ sermons.1Geerhardus Vos, “The Christian’s Hope,” in Grace and Glory (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2020), 147-63. The selection below is taken from Vos’ sermon, The Christian’s Hope, preached at Princeton in 1904 on the text of 1 Peter 1:3-5. There are several other sermons in this volume with selections worthy of quotation, but this brief quotation reminds us that there is nothing quite so persistent in hope founded upon God’s promises.
Of the text in 1 Peter Vos reflects that
The Christian is a man, according to Peter, who lives with his heavenly destiny ever in full view. His outlook is not bounded by the present life and the present world. He sees that which is and that which is to come in their true proportions and in their proper perspective. The centre of gravity of his consciousness lies not in the present but in the future. Hope, not possession, is that which gives tone and colour to his life. His is the frame of mind of the heir who knows himself entitled to large treasures upon which he will enter at a definite point of time; treasures which will enable him to become a man and develop his powers to their full capacity, and every one of whose thoughts therefore projects itself into the period when he shall have become of age and enjoy the fruition of his hope.
It is characteristic of youth to live in the future because youth knows instinctively that the true realities, the great possibilities of life, lie before it; that what it now is merely provisional and preparatory; that growing is for being. Yet this is even more emphatically true of that youthful stage of Christian life which believers spend here on earth. For after all, that which young people expect in the future is indefinite and uncertain. They know that what they have is not yet the true life, but what the true life, when and if it comes, will bring they cannot tell. Here hope is negative. But the Christian’s hope is positive. His youth is like that of the heir who knows precisely what awaits him. No, more than this, the Christian has the assurance which no heir in temporal things can ever have. He knows with absolute certainty that the inheritance will not merely be kept for him, but that he will be kept for it [emphasis added]. Here, then, there is something that possesses all the requirements necessary to make hope a safe and normal life-principle. The Christian can hope perfectly. He is the only one who can hope perfectly for that which is to be brought to him. For him not to have his face set forward and upward would be an anomaly, sickliness, decadence. To have it set upward and forward is life and health and strength. The air of the world to come is the vital atmosphere which he delights to breathe and outside of which he feels depressed and languid.
Undoubtedly the early Christians, as we observe them in the New Testament and even later, had more of this youthful spirit of the faith than you and I and Christians of the present day can boast of. Christianity in a certain sense has grown old in us. We do not, as much as we ought to, have our hearts in eternity. What is the reason? It is easy to say that the Christians of the apostolic age expected the speedy return of Christ which would soon make an end of the present world, and that for this reason they had a great advantage over us. To some extent this may be true, although to a far larger extent I believe that a precisely opposite connection between these two facts might be affirmed. I venture to say that the apostolic church was so interested in the return of the Lord and the time of his coming because spiritually it was predisposed for making this a question of supreme concern. In other words, because it was a church full of hope, it pondered with eager interest the problem of how and when its hope was to be realized.pages 150-152
Whatever its real trials, it is unlikely that life for most today is as circumstantially difficult as that faced by the common person of the first century—those immediate years after the resurrection, when hope rose with the Savior and was declared in the gospel (cf. 2 Timothy 1:10). This, however, is not to say that life now is not frequently and eventually miserable, despite its comfortable prospects.
Sin is the cause of the man’s misery, but this misery is then amplified by the unwelcome thoughts of unfounded hope. When hope is unfounded—untethered from the fact of Jesus’ resurrection, it eventually becomes disappointment. Unfounded hope—what is merely sentimental and without historical grounding—is eventually disillusioned of its reason. Unbelief then slowly but certainly approaches to sit and quarrel with the hopeless. Unbelief doesn’t need reasons, it need merely persuades a man to forget the resurrection, the very fact upon which a troubled history may welcome the future.
Vos later adds:
What a dignity it lends to the Christian life to have such hope even theoretically. If you have ever moved for a time in circles where the Christian faith has ceased to exist, where the belief in immortality has practically vanished, where people live consciously and professedly for this world only (and do not even attempt to break down the bars that shut them in), then you will have felt how sadly life was degraded, how pitifully brought down to the animal stage, even though it had all the advantages of worldly refinement and culture, simply because this element of hope had been taken out of it.pages 152-153
Notes & References
|Geerhardus Vos, “The Christian’s Hope,” in Grace and Glory (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2020), 147-63.