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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

On Groundless Hopes of Heaven

By Thomas Hooker (1586–1647)

[The Soule’s Vocation. 1638.]

I BESEECH you observe it, it is true here as they said, “Saul hath slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands;” despair hath slain his thousands, but presumption his ten thousands; that men may swear, and lie, and cozen and break all commands, and yet hope to be saved, yet they hope grace will save them; they resist grace yet hope Jesus Christ will show mercy unto them, they oppose Christ, this is that which, I say, hath slain many thousand souls amongst us, and they are few that have not split at this rock. Therefore, I say, this serveth to reprove the baseness, the vileness of such hypocrites that boast themselves, and compare their hopes with the hopes of the saints.

“It is true,” say they, “I cannot walk so freely, I cannot repeat a sermon, I want those parts that they have, I walk not so curiously, yet I hope to be saved as well as they.” This is that which hath slain many thousands of souls that now are roaring in hell, and they may thank presumption for it. Now this hope is not the hope of the saints; the hope of the saints is a grounded hope, but these hopes merely hang upon some idle pleas of foolish pretences, and some carnal reasons. But I tell you they will fall, and their hopes will sink, and they into the bottomless pit before they be aware. It is the command and counsel of Peter, “That every man should be ready to give a reason of his faith and hope that is in him;” therefore let us see the reasons that carry you, the arguments that persuade you to these groundless and foolish hopes. You hope to be saved, and you hope to go to heaven, and you hope to see the face of God with comfort. Let us see the grounds for these hopes of yours, good hope hath good reasons, grounded hope grounded reasons. You say, you hope to be saved, and have no reasons for it; it is a foolish hope, an unreasonable hope; the grounds therefore of hypocrites are mainly five:

The ignorant poor silly man, he pleadeth he cannot think it, he cannot conceive it, that God hath created any man for to damn him; sure the Lord is more merciful than so, and therefore though we be sinful, and base, and untoward, yet the Lord will not damn us. I answer therefore, it is true indeed God did never preserve men for this same end that he might damn them; though it is as true, he that made men he will damn most of men in hell for their sins committed against them. “Narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth unto life, few there be that find it:” is this the argument of thy hope? Mark the folly, and observe the weakness of it. If creation be a good argument, then all the damned should come out of hell and be delivered. Nay, by this reason the Devil himself should be saved; they are now in hell, they were created as well as you ignorant silly creatures. Think of these things, how your hope will shatter and break under you, and you with them will fall together into the bottomless pit.

See how the Lord bringeth this argument and confuteth it, it is a people that hath no understanding, therefore he that made them will not save them, he that created them will show them no mercy. The text saith, the Lord saith from heaven, though he made thee, he will not show thee mercy, if thou continue to be wicked and rebellious.

Another groweth in hope, that God will show mercy unto him in regard of God’s favorable dealing with him in things of this life, and he saith and pretendeth great thankfulness for God’s goodness, and he praiseth the Lord he never wanted any thing; his lot is fallen into a good ground and therefore he doubteth not but that God, who has been his God from his youth, will save him and show mercy unto his soul. This is the second ground, and it is a poor feeble ground to support the soul in such a case as this. I answer therefore, thou art deceived, thou takest that for an argument of God’s love and mercy, which rather may be an argument of God’s hatred and indignation. “The wicked flourish,” saith the text; then a man may say they will all to heaven, they will all be saved if they so prosper here. No, saith the text, they flourish that they may be destroyed, and perish forever. The ox is fatted for the slaughter; so it is here, thou art fatted here, thou hast more than heart can desire, thy cups are full, and thy table well spread, thy breasts full of milk, and thy bones full of marrow; it is that thou mightest be destroyed. Prosperity destroyeth the fool; it is like poison, like ratsbane. Now would any man say thus, such a man is most like to live, because he eateth most poison? Nay, rather the contrary. So prosperity meeting with a sinful, with a naughty heart, it is poison to him. The text telleth you when Haman was invited it was that he might be accused. The truth is, these men of the greatest hope in this life, I mean for honor and pomp, and respect and preferment, many of them are men of the least hope for heaven.

Others because they have felt the heavy hand of God, many sorrows, many weaknesses, many troubles in their course, many losses in their estate, these stay up their comforts, and upon these grounds they build their hopes: “I have had my hell in this life, and I hope to have heaven in the world to come; I hope the worst is over; now I have been troubled in this world, I hope I shall be comforted in another world,” and here is the ground of your hopes. I beseech you consider what I answer; I say this, all the grievances, trouble, sorrow, sicknesses, be they what they will be, unless thy heart be humbled by them, unless thou be brought unto the Lord Jesus Christ by them, they are so far from being an argument of grace and salvation unto thee that they are harbingers of those everlasting torments you shall endure in hell. Sodom and Gomorrah they burnt in brimstone and they shall burn in hell; a man would have said they had their hell here and therefore they should not have it hereafter. Why? The text saith they suffered vengeance of eternal fire. Why, brethren, I beseech you observe it, will any man reason thus: “Such a man hath had the earnest of the bargain, and therefore he shall not have the bargain?” Will any man say thus: “He that is attached, arraigned, condemned, shall not be hanged?” Nay rather he that hath the earnest shall have the bargain, he that now is accused, condemned, shall now be hanged; so here.

Others bear their hopes and sustain their hearts upon the privileges that God bestoweth upon them and the means they have and in regard of the duties they do discharge; and though they think they have fair hopes and great hopes of heaven, “Why,” say they, “God will pour down his wrath upon those that know not God, and that call not upon his name, but what do you make of us? Are we heathen, are not we Christians, have not we been baptized, and the Lord hath enabled us to do something? We call upon his name, and seek him by fasting and prayer, and therefore he that hath done so much for us, and hath done so much to us, sure he will give us heaven.” I answer, that this bottom is not sufficient to bear up this hope; all the privileges thou hast, all the means, ordinances thou enjoyest, unless thy heart be humbled and thy soul brought to Christ all these will fall under thee and thou wilt go to hell. He is not a Jew that is a Jew outwardly; the Jews they bragged of this, they were circumcised, and the heathen were not circumcised; they were the seed of Abraham, but the heathen were not. Paul vilified all this; he is not a Jew that is a Jew outwardly; thy baptism, thy praying, and thy hearing, there is no profit by them, no comfort in them, if thou maintain a wicked life, and a naughty heart. Therefore this will not serve the turn; you know it, and the Scripture speaketh it, Judas an Apostle, Judas called by Christ, he sat with our Saviour, and dipped his hand in the dish, he was a devil then, and is with the devils now; the foolish virgins had a trim profession, as well as the others; thou professest and hearest, and prayest; thou wilt lie too, and cozen too, and swear too; thou art naught, and this bottom will never bear thee up.

When they see all this will come to nothing, then they make a shift to plead mercy, and they hope that will stand them in stead, and do them good, when nothing else will, and therefore you shall hear carnal wicked men confess themselves naught, their sins many, and they vile, but there is mercy enough in God to relieve them, and they hope that will save them. Brethren, I confess mercy is able to save thee, and if thy hope can lay hold upon it, it will save thee, if thou be so within the reach of mercy, mercy is able to save thee, and will save many other besides. But thou art not capable of this mercy, thou art not within the room and compass of mercy.

What availeth it to talk, and speak and hope for mercy, and to see a great deal of mercy in Christ, a great deal of merit in Christ, a great deal of virtue in Christ, able to save thee and a thousand more, and yet thou not in the compass of mercy, not capable of mercy, but sinkest in thy own sins, before thou gettest any mercy from God. “He that made them will have no mercy upon them,” as who should say, “It is true, here is abundance of mercy, mercy enough, mercy that saved a poor company of poor Jews, that crucified the Lord Jesus Christ; mercy that saved Paul a persecutor, Manasses an idolater, but I will show no mercy unto thee.” He that confesseth, and forsaketh his sins, shall find mercy. Mercy owneth those, mercy doth good unto those, but unto thee that lovest thy sins, that embracest thy sins, that hidest thy sins, the text saith it, thou shalt never find mercy; delude thyself thou mayst, but thou never shalt have mercy.

There was a marriage made, and a rich marriage feast, enough to have fed many thousands, but those that were bidden did not come, they shall not so much as taste of them, they shall have none of them. So there are sweet comforts, strong consolations, admirable refreshings, able to sustain a thousand souls, but you that would keep your sins and have the pride of your hearts, but you that stand it out with the Word and will not yield to the authority of the truth, hear what the Lord saith from heaven, he that is the God of comfort, thou shalt never be comforted; he that is the Author of salvation saith it, thou shalt never be saved, thou shalt never have a crumb of these dainties, nor a drop of these sweet wines of spiritual consolation. What a world now of men are shut out by these trials, that are found guilty of these particulars! You poor ignorant creatures, do not many of you lift up your heads full high, and many a poor presumptuous hypocrite bear up themselves upon rotten hopes? But I tell you, when you come to the day of judgment, all this will fail you; but you will say in the former use: “You labored us from despair, and encouraged us to hope, and yet now you take away all our hopes. Why if neither creation may comfort us, nor the experience of God’s kind dealing with us may encourage us, nor the afflictions that we have endured in this world, nor the privileges that we have enjoyed, nor the mercy, of themselves may give us any hope to receive mercy, why then it seemeth you would have us despair, and cast away all hope of any good?”

The truth is, as I must not make the way broader than it is, so I must not make it narrower than I ought, therefore know these two things:

As long as thou retainest and keepest a proud, stubborn, unconverted heart, there is no hope in heaven or earth, that God should ever show mercy unto thee, and save that hard, stony, impenitent, unbelieving heart of thine.