At Home With God
5:1-5 Since, then, we have been put into a right relationship with God in consequence of faith, let us enjoy peace with him through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him, by faith, we are in possession of an introduction to this grace in which we stand; and let us glory in the hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but let us find a cause of glorying in our troubles; for we know that trouble produces fortitude, and fortitude produces character; and character produces hope; and hope does not prove an illusion, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given unto us.
Here is one of Paul's great lyrical passages in which he almost sings the intimate joy of his confidence in God. Trusting faith has done what the labour to produce the works of the law could never do; it has given a man peace with God. Before Jesus came, no man could ever be really close to God.
Some, indeed, have seen him, not as the supreme good, but as the supreme evil. Swinburne wrote:
"His hidden face and iron feet,
Hath not man known and felt them in their way
Threaten and trample all things every day?
Hath he not sent us hunger? Who hath cursed
Spirit and flesh with longing? Filled with thirst
Their lips that cried to him?"
Some have seen him as the complete stranger, the utterly untouchable. In one of H. G. Wells' books there is the story of a man of affairs whose mind was so tensed and strained that he was in serious danger of a complete nervous and mental breakdown. His doctor told him that the only thing that could save him was to find the peace that fellowship with God can give. "What!" he said, "to think of that, up there, having fellowship with me! I would as soon think of cooling my throat with the milky way or shaking hands with the stars!" God, to him, was the completely unfindable. Rosita Forbes, the traveller, tells of finding shelter one night in a Chinese village temple because there was nowhere else to sleep. In the night she woke and the moonlight was slanting in through the window on to the faces of the images of the gods, and on every face there was a snarl and a sneer, as of those who hated men.
It is only when we realize that God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ that there comes into life that intimacy with him, that new relationship, which Paul calls justification.
Through Jesus, says Paul, we have an introduction to this grace in which we stand. The word he uses for introduction is prosagoge, ( Greek #4318 ). It is a word with two great pictures in it.
(i) It is the regular word for introducing or ushering someone into the presence of royalty; and it is the regular word for the approach of the worshipper to God. It is as if Paul was saying, "Jesus ushers us into the very presence of God. He opens the door for us to the presence of the King of Kings; and when that door is opened what we find is grace; not condemnation, not judgment, not vengeance, but the sheer, undeserved, incredible kindness of God."
(ii) But prosagoge ( Greek #4318 ) has another picture in it. In late Greek it is the word for the place where ships come in, a harbour or a haven. If we take it that way, it means that so long as we tried to depend on our own efforts we were tempest-tossed, like mariners striving with a sea which threatened to overwhelm them completely, but now that we have heard the word of Christ, we have reached at last the haven of God's grace, and we know the calm of depending, not on what we can do for ourselves, but on what God has done for us.
Because of Jesus we have entry to the presence of the King of Kings and entry to the haven of God's grace.
No sooner has Paul said this than the other side of the matter strikes him. All this is true, and it is glory; but the fact remains that in this life the Christians are up against it. It is hard to be a Christian in Rome. Remembering that, Paul produces a great climax. "Trouble," he said, "produces fortitude." The word he uses for trouble is thlipis ( Greek #2347 ), which literally means pressure. All kinds of things may press in upon the Christian--want and straitened circumstances, sorrow, persecution, unpopularity and loneliness. All that pressure, says Paul, produces fortitude. The word he uses for fortitude is hupomone ( Greek #5281 ) which means more than endurance. It means the spirit which can overcome the world; it means the spirit which does not passively endure but which actively overcomes the trials and tribulations of life.
When Beethoven was threatened with deafness, that most terrible of troubles for a musician, he said: "I will take life by the throat." That is hupomone ( Greek #5281 ). When Scott was involved in ruin because of the bankruptcy of his publishers, he said: "No man will say 'Poor fellow!' to me; my own right hand will pay the debt." That is hupomone ( Greek #5281 ). Someone once said to a gallant soul who was undergoing a great sorrow: "Sorrow fairly colours life, doesn't it?" Back came the reply: "Yes! And I propose to choose the colour!" That is hupomone ( Greek #5281 ). When Henley was lying in Edinburgh Infirmary with one leg amputated, and the prospect that the other must follow, he wrote Invictus.
"Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul."
That is hupomone ( Greek #5281 ). Hupomone is not the spirit which lies down and lets the floods go over it; it is the spirit which meets things breastforward and overcomes them.
"Fortitude," Paul goes on, "produces character." The word he uses for character is dokime ( Greek #1382 ). Dokime ( Greek #1382 ) is used of metal which has been passed through the fire so that everything base has been purged out of it. It is used of coinage as we use the word sterling. When affliction is met with fortitude, out of the battle a man emerges stronger, and purer, and better, and nearer God.
"Character," Paul goes on, "produces hope." Two men can meet the same situation. It can drive one of them to despair, and it can spur the other to triumphant action. To the one it can be the end of hope, to the other it can be a challenge to greatness. "I do not like crises," said Lord Reith, "but I do like the opportunities they provide." The difference corresponds to the difference between the men. If a man has let himself become weak and flabby, if he has allowed circumstances to beat him, if he has allowed himself to whine and grovel under affliction, he has made himself such that when the challenge of the crisis comes he cannot do other than despair. If, on the other hand, a man has insisted on meeting life with head up, if he has always faced and, by facing, conquered things, then when the challenge comes, he meets it with eyes aflame with hope. The character which has endured the test always emerges in hope.
Then Paul makes one last great statement: "The Christian hope never proves an illusion for it is founded on the love of God." Omar Khayyam wrote wistfully of human hopes:
"The Worldly Hope men set their hearts upon
Turns Ashes--or it prospers; and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face
Lighting a little Hour or two--is gone."
When a man's hope is in God, it cannot turn to dust and ashes. When a man's hope is in God, it cannot be disappointed. When a man's hope is in the love of God, it can never be an illusion, for God loves us with an everlasting love backed by an everlasting power.
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