And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
“Faith, hope, love”; these, in Saint Paul’s analysis, are the characteristic elements of the Christian mind. Saint Paul, as we know, in enumerating them, makes one of them the greatest, in order and in nature – “the greatest of these is love.” But it is a first and foremost place among equals. All stand together, as nothing else does, in the front rank of the perfections which make Christian goodness. All are equally indispensable in those who would please God and follow Christ.
But why should hope be ranked so high, placed on a level with faith and love? We can understand why faith should be so singled out; it is the foundation of the whole structure of religion; it is the bond between the creature and the invisible Maker and God; it is the special title of our acceptance; it is the ground of our self-devotion and obedience, of our highest and noblest ventures. Still more can we understand it of love, for love brings us near in the essential qualities of character to the one we believe in and worship. Love is the faint and distant likeness of the one who “so loved the world that he gave his only Son” to save it; love must last and live and increase under whatever conditions the regenerate nature exists, the same in substance, however differing in degree in the humblest penitent on Earth and in the adoring saint or seraph in the eternal world. But hope is thought of, at first sight, as a self-regarding quality; something which throws forward its desires into the future, and dwells on what it imagines of happiness for itself. And hope, of all things, is delusive and treacherous; it tempts to security and self-deceit; it tempts us to dreams that cannot be realized, which divert us from the necessary and wholesome realities that do concern us: it is the mother of half the mistakes, half the fruitless wanderings, half the unhappiness of the world. How is such a quality placed on a level with faith and love? What need have we of encouragement to do what we are only too ready to do of ourselves?
But it is not really strange that Saint Paul should raise hope to a Christian temper of the first order. Saint Paul was a student of scripture and of the history of his people and what is on the surface of the Bible is the way in which from first to last it is one unbroken persistent call to hope – to look from the past and present to the future. Its story of uninterrupted tendency is strangely checkered in fact; bright and dark succeed one another with the most unexpected turns – lofty faith and the meanest disloyalty, great achievements and unexpected failure, lessons of the purest goodness and most heartfelt devotion, with the falls and sins of saints, blessing and chastisement, the patience of God, and the incorrigible provocations of God’s people. In spite of all that is wonderful and glorious in it, it sounds like the most disastrous and unpromising of stories; and yet that is not its result. For amid the worst and most miserable conditions there is one element which is never allowed to disappear – the strength of a tenacious and unconquerable hope. Hope, never destroyed, however overthrown, never obscured even amid the storm and dust of ruin, is the prominent characteristic of the Old Testament. All leads back to hope – hope of the loftiest and most assured kind, even after the most fatal defeats, of changes which seem beyond remedy. The last word is always hope. If ever it dies, it revives again larger, more confident than before. It is implied in the very language and appeals of despair. Hope spreads its colors over the Sacred Book, whose outlook and interest is always the future, which looks back to the past only as the ground and pledge of the great things to come. So has Saint Paul described the purpose and effect of scripture, for his words are as true of the New Testament as of the Old. He may be said to have characterized scripture as, above everything, the Book of Hope. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instructions, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”
Hope, I say – the temper and virtue answering to and embracing great and worthy things hoped for – elevates and strengthens and inspires. This is why it is one of the great elements of the religious temper; this is why it ranks with faith and love. It is one of the great and necessary springs of full religious action.