“Turn you to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope.” (Zechariah 9:12)
Zechariah describes God’s elect as “prisoners of hope.” Such “prisoners of hope” will soon be set free. The old writers used to speak of “sensible sinners,” or “awakened sinners,” and “seeking sinners.” Bro. L. R. Shelton, SR used to talk about “lost sinners.” I realize that we can make too much of this; but there is a difference between sinners and sinners. Joseph Hart put it like this…
“To understand these things aright, this grand distinction should be known:
Though all are sinners in God’s sight, there are but few so in their own.
To such as these our Lord was sent; they’re only sinners who repent.
What comfort can a Savior bring to those who never felt their woe?
A sinner is a sacred thing; the Holy Ghost hath made him so.
New life from Him we must receive, before for sin we rightly grieve.”
We must never imagine that all who are born of God experience grace in the same way. They do not. In many, many ways the experience of grace is the same; but in many ways it is different. Some experience God’s saving grace like the Gadarene demoniac, out of whom the powers of hell are cast instantaneously. Others are like the pitiful soul who, coming to Jesus, was thrown and torn violently. Sometimes the Lord Jesus gives full sight to his blind ones all at once. Sometimes he causes his blind ones to see just a little at a time. They are like that one who said, “I see men as trees, walking” (Mark 8:24).
The promise and assurance of salvation and eternal life in Christ is given only to faith in Christ. — “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” — “He that believeth on the Son of God hath everlasting life.” But they are greatly mistaken who imagine that faith in Christ is, in any way, the cause of the new birth. Faith in Christ is the fruit of the new birth, not the cause.
Hope before Faith
In the experience of grace there is a hope that is the forerunner of faith. I would not suggest that it is hope without faith. That is not the case. But it is hope that is accompanied with faith not yet revealed and made known in the soul, hope that precedes a confident, lively faith.
In my opinion John Gill was exactly right when he wrote, “All men are concluded in sin, shut up under the law, and led captive by Satan; but some are not sensible of their imprisoned state, nor desirous of being out of it, nor have any hope concerning it. Others groan under their bondage, long for deliverance, and are hoping for it.” They hope that Christ will receive them and save them. They hope that he will pardon their sins. They hope that the Spirit of God has begun a good work in them, and will perform it. They hope for salvation and eternal life in Christ.
I know that we live in a day of cock sure, “know so” religion; but the Word of God speaks of sinners hoping for God’s salvation.
“The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope. He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach. For the Lord will not cast off for ever: But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies” (Lamentations 3:25-32).
In Matthew 5 our Lord Jesus speaks of these who are awakened to know their need of him as mourners who shall be comforted, hungry souls that shall be filled, thirsty souls that shall be satisfied, and meek ones who shall inherit the bounty of his grace. Such are the broken-hearted, contrite sinners with whom God is pleased to dwell. They are sin-sick souls who have need of healing.
A Felt Need
When the old writers used the terms, “sensible sinners,” or “awakened sinners,” and “seeking sinners,” they were not suggesting that some dead sinners have spiritual sense, or that sinners must meet certain conditions before they can trust Christ. They were simply using those terms with reference to Christ’s “prisoners of hope,” sinners who sense imprisonment in their very souls, sinners who have a felt need for Christ. They are in distress. They know there is comfort for sinners in Christ; but they find no comfort. There is “a good hope through grace” given to God’s elect; but they remain hopeless. While those who walk in the “full assurance of faith” sing of life and liberty in Christ, they feel death and bondage deep in their souls. The more they hear about blessed liberty in Christ, the more they sense their bondage. The more they hear about being free from condemnation, the more condemned they feel. The more aggravating and hateful their sins become, the more strongly they hold them.
I will not presume to speak for anyone else; but I have just described my own experience of God’s grace. Have I described you? Because you have rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the most High, he has brought down your heart with labor, and there is none to help. Oh, how sad your condition is! I know. I’ve been there. But sad as your condition is, though you think yourself hopeless, now that you find there is none to help, the Lord Jesus stands before you and says, “Turn you to the Stronghold, ye prisoners of hope!” — “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.” — “I have trodden the winepress alone…I looked, and there was none to help. Therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; and my fury, it upheld me!” — “I am thy Salvation!”
“Let not conscience make you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth is to feel your need of Him;
This He gives you, this He gives you; ‘tis the Spirit’s rising beam.”
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