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Bunyan Characters Second Series: 5. HOPEFUL

By Alexander Whyte

      "We are saved by hope."--Paul

      Up till the time when Christian and Faithful passed through Vanity Fair on their way to the Celestial City, Hopeful was one of the most light-minded men in all that light-minded town. By his birth, and both on his father's and his mother's side, Hopeful was, to begin with, a youth of an unusually shallow and silly mind. In the jargon of our day he was a man of a peculiarly optimistic temperament. No one ever blamed him for being too subjective and introspective. It took many sharp trials and many bitter disappointments to take the inborn frivolity and superficiality out of this young man's heart. He was far on in his life, he was far on even in his religious life, before you would have ever thought of calling him a serious-minded man. Hopeful had been born and brought up to early manhood in the town of Vanity, and he knew nothing better and desired nothing better than to lay out his whole life and to rest all his hopes on the things of the fair; on such things, that is, as houses, lands, places, honours, preferments, titles, pleasures, and delights of all sorts. And that vain and empty life went on with him, till, as he told his companion afterwards, it had all ended with him in revelling, and drinking, and uncleanness, and Sabbath-breaking, and all such things as destroyed his soul. But in Hopeful's happy case also the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church. Hopeful, as he was afterwards called, had suffered so many bitter disappointments and shipwrecks of expectation from the things of the fair, that is to say, from the houses, the places, the preferments, the pleasures and what not, of the fair, that even his heart was ripe for something better than any of those things, when, as God would have it, Christian and Faithful came to the town. Hopeful was still hanging about the booths of the fair; he was just fingering his last sixpence over a commodity that he knew quite well would be like gall in his belly as soon as he had bought it; when,--what is that hubbub that rolls down the street? Hopeful was always the first to see and to hear every new thing that came to the town, and thus it was that he was soon in the thick of the tumult that rose around Christian and Faithful. Had those two pilgrims come to the town at any former time, Hopeful would have been among the foremost to mock at and smite the two men; but, to-day, Hopeful's heart is so empty, and his purse also, that he is already won to their side by the loving looks and the wise and sweet words of the two ill-used men. Some of the men of the town said that the two pilgrims were outlandish and bedlamite men, but Hopeful took courage to reprove some of the foremost of the mob. Till, at last, when Faithful was at the stake, it was all that his companions could do to keep back Hopeful from leaping up on the burning pile and embracing the expiring man. And then, when He who overrules all things so brought it about that Christian escaped out of their hands, who should come forth and join him at the upward gate of the city but just Hopeful, who not only joined himself to the lonely pilgrim, but told him also that there were many more of the men of the city who would take their time and follow after. And thus, adds his biographer, when one died to make his testimony to the truth, another rose up out of his ashes to be a companion to Christian.

      When Madame Krudener was getting her foot measured by a pietist shoemaker, she was so struck with the repose and the sweetness and the heavenly joy of the poor man's look and manner that she could not help but ask him what had happened to him that he had such a look on his countenance and such a light in his eye. She was miserable, though she had all that heart could wish. She had all that made her one of the most envied women in Europe; she had birth, talents, riches, rank, and the friendship of princes and princesses, and yet she was of all women the most miserable. And here was a poor chance shoemaker whose whole heart was running over with a joy such that all her wealth could not purchase to her heart one single drop of it. The simple soul soon told her his secret; it was no secret: it was just Jesus Christ who had done it all. And thus her poor shoemaker's happy face was the means of this great lady's conversion. And, in like manner, it was the beholding of Christian and Faithful in their words and in their behaviour at the fair that decided Hopeful to join himself to Christian and henceforth to be his companion.

      What were the things, asked Christian of his young companion, that first led you to leave off the vanities of the fair and to think to be a pilgrim? Many things, replied Hopeful. Sometimes if I did but meet a good man in the street. Or if mine head began unaccountably, or mine heart, to ache. Or if some one of my companions became suddenly sick. Or if I heard the bell toll that some one was dead. But, especially, when I thought of myself that I must quickly come to judgment. And then it is told in the best style of the book how peace and rest and the beginning of true satisfaction came to poor Hopeful's heart at last. But you must promise me to read the passage for yourselves before you sleep to-night; and to read it again and again till, like Hopeful's, your heart also is full of joy, and your eyes full of tears, and your affections running over with love to the name and to the people and to all the ways of Jesus Christ.

      And then, it is very encouraging and reassuring to us to see how Hopeful's true conversion so deepened and sobered and strengthened his whole character. He remained to the end in his mental constitution and whole temperament, as we say, the same man he had always been; but, while remaining the same man, at the same time a most wonderful change gradually began to come over him, till, by slow but sure degrees, he became the Hopeful we know and look to and lean upon. To use his own autobiographic words about himself, it was "by hearing and considering of things that are Divine" that his natural levity was so completely whipped out of his soul till he was made at last an indispensable companion to Christian, strong-minded and serious-minded man as he was. "Conversion to God," says William Law, "is often very sudden and instantaneous, unexpectedly raised from variety of occasions. Thus, one by seeing only a withered tree, another by reading the lives and deaths of the antediluvian fathers, one by hearing of heaven, another of hell, one by reading of the love or wrath of God, another of the sufferings of Christ, may find himself, as it were, melted into penitence all of a sudden. It may be granted also that the greatest sinner may in a moment be converted to God, and may feel himself wounded in such a degree as perhaps those never were who have been turning to God all their lives. But, then, it is to be observed that this suddenness of change or flash of conviction is by no means of the essence of true conversion. This stroke of conversion is not to be considered as signifying our high state of a new birth in Christ, or a proof that we are on a sudden made new creatures, but that we are thus suddenly called upon and stirred up to look after a newness of nature. The renewal of our first birth and state is something entirely distinct from our first sudden conversion and call to repentance. That is not a thing done in an instant, but is a certain process, a gradual release from our captivity and disorder, consisting of several stages and degrees, both of life and death, which the soul must go through before it can have thoroughly put off the old man. It is well worth observing that our Saviour's greatest trials were near the end of His life. This might sufficiently show us that our first awakenings have carried us but a little way; that we should not then begin to be self-assured of our own salvation, but should remember that we stand at a great distance from, and are in great ignorance of, our severest trials." Such was the way that Christian in his experience and in his wisdom talked to his young companion till his outward trials and the consequent discoveries he made of his own weakness and corruption made even Hopeful himself a sober-minded and a thoughtful man. "Where pain ends, gain ends too."

      Then, again, no one can read Hopeful's remarkable history without discovering this about him, that he showed best in adversity and distress, just as he showed worst in deliverance and prosperity. It is a fine lesson in Christian hope to descend into Giant Despair's dungeon and hear the older pilgrim groaning and the younger pilgrim consoling him, and, again, to stand on the bank of the last river and hear Hopeful holding up Christian's drowning head. "Be of good cheer, my brother, for I feel the bottom, and it is good!" Bless Hopeful for that, all you whose deathbeds are still before you. For never was more true and fit word spoken for a dying hour than that. Read, till you have it by heart and in the dark, Hopeful's whole history, but especially his triumphant end. And have some one bespoken beforehand to read Hopeful in the River to you when you have in a great measure lost your senses, and when a great horror has taken hold of your mind. "I sink in deep waters," cried Christian, as his sins came to his mind, even the sins which he had committed both since and before he came to be a pilgrim. "But I see the gate," said Hopeful, "and men standing at it ready to receive us." "Read to me where I first cast my anchor," said John Knox to his weeping wife.

      The Enchanted Ground, on the other hand, threatened to throw Hopeful back again into his former light-minded state. And there is no saying what shipwreck he might have made there had the older man not been with him to steady and reprove and instruct him. As it was, a touch now and then of his old vain temper returned to him till it took all his companion's watchfulness and wariness to carry them both out of that second Vanity Fair. "I acknowledge myself in a fault," said Hopeful to Christian, "and had I been here alone I had run in danger of death. Hitherto, thy company hath been my mercy, and thou shalt have a good reward for all thy labour."

      Now, my brethren, in my opinion we owe a great debt of gratitude to John Bunyan for the large and the displayed place he has given to Hopeful in the Pilgrim's Progress. The fulness and balance and proportion of the Pilgrim's Progress are features of that wonderful book far too much overlooked. So far as my reading goes I do not know any other author who has at all done the justice to the saving grace of hope that John Bunyan has done both in his doctrinal and in his allegorical works. Bunyan stands alone and supreme not only for the insight, and the power with which he has constructed the character and the career of Hopeful, but even for having given him the space at all adequate to his merits and his services. In those eighty-seven so suggestive pages that form the index to Dr. Thomas Goodwin's works I find some hundred and twenty-four references to "faith," while there are only two references to "hope." And that same oversight and neglect runs through all our religious literature, and I suppose, as a consequence, through all our preaching too. Now that is not the treatment the Bible gives to this so essential Christian grace, as any one may see at a glance who takes the trouble to turn up his Cruden. Hope has a great place alongside of faith and love in the Holy Scriptures, and it has a correspondingly large and eloquent place in Bunyan. Now, that being so, why is it that this so great and so blessed grace has so fallen out of our sermons and out of our hearts? May God grant that our reading of Hopeful's autobiography and his subsequent history to-night may do something to restore the blessed grace of hope to its proper place both in our pulpit and in all our hearts.

      To kindle then, to quicken, and to anchor your hope, my brethren, may I have God's help to speak for a little longer to your hearts concerning this neglected grace! For, what is hope? Hope is a passion of the soul, wise or foolish, to be ashamed of or to be proud of, just according to the thing hoped for, and just according to the grounds of the hope. Hope is made up of these two ingredients--desire and expectation. What we greatly desire we take no rest till we find good grounds on which to build up our expectations of it; and when we have found good grounds for our expectations, then a glad hope takes possession of our hearts. Now, to begin with, how is it with your desires? You are afraid to say much about your expectations and your hopes. Well; let us come to your hearts' desires.--Men of God, I will enter into your hearts and I will tell you your hearts' desires better than you know them yourselves; for the heart is deceitful above all things. The time was, when, like this young pilgrim before he became a pilgrim, your desires were all set on houses, and lands, and places, and honours, and preferments, and wives, and children, and silver, and gold, and what not. These things at one time were the utmost limit of your desires. But that has all been changed. For now you have begun to desire a better city, that is, an heavenly. What is your chief desire for this New Year? (January 1st, 1893.) Is it not a new heart? Is it not a clean heart? Is it not a holy heart? Is it not that the Holy Ghost would write the golden rule on the tables of your heart? Does not God know that it is the deepest desire of your heart to be able to love your neighbour as yourself? To be able to rejoice with him in his joy as well as to weep with him in his sorrow? What would you not give never again to feel envy in your heart at your brother, or straitness and pining at his prosperity? One thing do I desire, said the Psalmist, that mine ear may be nailed to the doorpost of my God: that I may always be His servant, and may never wander from His service. Now, that is your desire too. I am sure it is. You would not say it of yourself, but I defy you to deny it when it is said about you. Well, then, such things being found among your desires, what grounds have you for expecting the fulfilment of such desires? What grounds? The best of grounds and every ground. For you have the sure ground of God's word. And you have more than His word: you have His very nature, and the very nature of things. For shall God create such desires in any man's heart only to starve and torture that man? Impossible! It were blasphemy to suspect it. No. Where God has made any man to be so far a partaker of the Divine nature as to change all that man's deepest desires, and to turn them from vanity to wisdom, from earth to heaven, and from the creature to the Creator, doubt not, wherever He has begun such a work, that He will hasten to finish it. Yes; lift up your heavy hearts, all ye who desire such things, for God hath sent His Son to say to you, Blessed are ye that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for ye shall be filled. Only, keep desiring. Desire every day with a stronger and a more inconsolable desire. Desire, and ground your desire on God's word, and then heave your hope like an anchor within the veil whither the Forerunner is for you entered. May I so hope? you say. May I venture to hope? Yes; not only may you hope, but you must hope. You are commanded to hope. It is as much your bounden duty to hope always, and to hope for the greatest and best things, as it is to repent of your sins, to love God and your neighbour, to keep yourself pure, and to set a watch on the door of your lips. You have been destroyed, I confess and lament it, for lack of knowledge about the nature, the grounds, and the duty of hope. But make up now for past neglect. Hope steadfastly, hope constantly, hope boldly; hope for the best things, the greatest things, the most divine and the most blessed things. If you forget to-night all else you have heard to-day, I implore you not any longer to forget and neglect this, that hope is your immediate, constant, imperative duty. No sin, no depth of corruption in your heart, no assault on your heart from your conscience, can justify you in ceasing to hope. Even when trouble "comes tumbling over the neck of all your reformations" as it came tumbling on Hopeful, let that only drive you the more deeply down into the true grounds of hope; even against hope rejoice in hope. Remember the Psalmist in the hundred-and-thirtieth Psalm,--down in the deeps, if ever a fallen sinner was. Yet hear him when you cannot see him saying: I hope in Thy word! And--for it is worthy to stand beside even that splendid psalm,--I beseech you to read and lay to heart what Hopeful says about himself in his conversion despair.

      And then, as if to justify that hope, there always come with it such sanctifying influences and such sure results. The hope that you are one day to awaken in the Divine likeness will make you lie down on your bed every night in self-examination, repentance, prayer, and praise. The hope that your eyes are one day to see Christ as He is will make you purify yourself as nothing else will. The hope that you are to walk with Christ in white will make you keep your garments clean; it will make you wash them many times every day in the blood of the Lamb. The hope that you are to cast your crown at His feet will make you watch that no man takes your crown from you. The hope that you are to drink wine with Him in His Father's kingdom will reconcile you meanwhile to water, lest with your wine you stumble any of His little ones. The hope of hearing Him say, Well done!--how that will make you labour and endure and not faint! And the hope that you shall one day enter in through the gates into the city, and have a right to the tree of life,--how scrupulous that will make you to keep all His commandments! And this is one of His commandments, that you gird up the loins of your mind, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.


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See Also:
   7. SECRET
   9. MERCY
   10. MR. BRISK
   11. MR. SKILL
   14. MR. FEARING
   21. GAIUS


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