October 20, 2017

Ephraim’s Idols: Hope: Revelation or Speculation?

By Ron Halbrook

Hope is desire plus expectation. Webster says, "Desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment." In Philippi, some base men used a "damsel possessed with a spirit of divination" as a means to wealth "by soothsaying." . When Paul healed her, these men were enraged because "the hope of their gains was gone . . ." (Acts 16:16ff). This girl did not represent mere desire of sordid gain to them. Their desire was made confident expectation through her. When the elderly Abraham "against hope believed in hope" for a child, he had no earthly reason to think his long-standing desire could be fulfilled. Against earthly odds, he laid hold of the heavenly promise. Believing that what God "had promised, he was able also to perform," Abraham added confident expectation to earnest desire (Rom. 4).

The Hope Revealed In Scripture

The "joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation" is hope (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon). God promised Abraham that He would bring a Savior out of a prepared nation in a prepared land, to bless "all families of the earth." After many centuries of revelation and preparation, God fulfilled his promise in the person of Jesus Christ (Gen. 12:1-3; Gal. 3). When Paul was called in question for his preaching, he said, "And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers" (Acts 26:6). God's promise was not a matter of human speculation but of divine revelation. "The God of hope" causes us to "abound in hope" through the gospel of Christ, blessing Jew and Gentile alike (Rom. 15:12-13). Our hope in Christ is not a feeble wish, a perchance, a maybe. It is "joyful and confident expectation" based on divine revelation.

Hope in Christ is not a speculation or theory about what God "might" do or "could" do. Rather, it is what He promises to do of a certainty. This hope is extended on a conditional basis. We receive its certainty and confidence when faith moves us to obey the gospel (Rom. 1:16; 10:16). "The God of hope" promises to make hope a reality for each of us when "we are buried with" Christ "in baptism" (Rom. 15:13; 6:4). A small band at Ephesus sincerely followed "John's baptism" during the gospel age; when they learned that Christ had come, and believed on him, "they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:1-5). This made them members of "one body'," by "one Spirit." They knew but "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God . . ." (Eph. 4:4-6). The one hope is our's when we rise from the waters of baptism, but we must "continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel . . ." Truly, "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 2:12; 1:23, 27).

The "Lord Jesus Christ . . . is our hope" because he is its author, object, and foundation (1 Tim. 1:1). Hope in him is not based on speculation, but on divine revelation. "For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel" (Col. 1:5). This "grace of God" is a revealed message, "teaching us" His will, giving the "hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began" (Tit. 2:11ff; 1:2). The "lively hope" of final salvation in heaven stands on "a reason of the hope" (1 Pet. 1:3-5; 3:15). Hope's reason is a man-and-plan, a revelation personal-and-propositional. It stands on specific, objective, unerring, infallible, divine truth.

Opinion, Theory, and Speculation Are Not Hope

In answer to a question from Lunenburg, Virginia, Alexander Campbell said those "sprinkled in infancy" who continued in sincere "mistakes of the understanding" belong to "Christ and the well-grounded hope of heaven." This brought many loud protests from brethren who suffered denominational taunts such as, "Then we are as safe as you." In two responses, Campbell admitted giving "only the fallible inference or opinion of mail," not "strictest biblical import," and he stressed "opinion" 34 times (Millennial Harbinger, Sept., Nev., Dec. 1837). E.G. Sewell later observed, "For an opinion can never save a soul, while the utterance of them may mislead some one. It was a mistake in Brother Campbell to utter such an opinion" (Gospel Advocate, Feb. 23, 1893, p. 121). Below, another such opinion is expressed:

Is There Hope? It seems quite often that questions surface regarding the status of those outside Churches of Christ - whether or not there is "any hope" for those sincere people who are attempting to follow Christ and the Bible but find themselves in denominations and the like. I think it is pretty well regarded as a charitable statement to say something lie, "If God wants to save those people come judgement day, that is His business; as for me, I can offer such people no hope whatsoever that they might be saved . . ."

"I can offer . . . no hope." Yes, that's certainly true - "we" cannot offer anybody anything, let alone "hope." The province of salvation is totally in the hands of God who made us and gave us this world to serve Him in. So it is not and never has been a question of what "we" can offer or explain or promise to those we consider "outside" the boundaries of the kingdom. Neither is speculation our role to play - the solutions and conclusions you and I can concoct have no binding force on God or eternity. But what we cannot offer because we have no authority to do so, God can, for He is God.

Is there any hope? We serve the God of hope. Jeremiah spoke, "Art thou not he, O Lord our God? We set our hope on thee, for thou doest all these things" (Jer. 14:22). This is the God who "while we were yet sinners" sent Christ who "died for us" (Rom. 5:8). Is there hope? There is always hope! We do not serve a wicked tyrant God, but a merciful, loving, tender One who lives to love and gives that we might live. If we were talking about some other deity, some humanly devised God we might with assurance say, "no hope . . ." But praise God we are not. Hope is the one thing that always remains despite all the human calculations and machinations. God is faithful and just - he is not petty and selfish like we are (Matt. 20:1-18).

To hold out hope for those outside our confines is not to cheapen the gospel, compromise the faith or turn grace into license. Rather, it is to acknowledge the God "who is greater than our hearts" (1 Jn. 3:20).(1)

The author says our speculations, conclusions, or opinions ought not to be presented as the revealed will of God, yet says "to hold out hope" to "sincere people . . . in denominations and the like" is proper. None of his passages touch the subject. Shall we hold out this hope as the one hope revealed in Scripture? Or is it not a feeble wish, perchance, or maybe, based on the author's speculative opinion? Such grounds may apply equally to sincere Protestants, cultists (Mormon, Christian Scientist, Jehovah's Witness), Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Jews, humanitarians, heathens, and agnostics. Nothing, is gained but great risk is taken by opening the door to such fallible speculation. Let us urgently proclaim the one hope - joyful, confident expectation based on God's infallible Word.

Endnote:

1. Complete text of articles by Bruce Edwards, Jr. in his Cross References, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Sept. 1977). Along the same line, an Alabama preacher told Jimmy Thomas that as to the question of whether baptism is essential to forgiveness, "We cannot put a clock on God's grace." Some of the Georgia preachers in the new unity movement, including Johnny Trotter, have publicly declared their "private" faith: people baptized with the denominational concept (baptized to demonstrate the salvation already received an outward sign of an inward grace) are in the grace of God and the body of Christ. This old theory of "Christians in every denomination" extends hope to people on the unbiblical basis of human speculation!

Truth Magazine XXIII: 30, pp. 485-486
August 2, 1979

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