"This I recall to my mind; therefore, have I hope" (Lamentations 3:21)
There was some great cause for this hope that seems suddenly to have illuminated the soul of the weeping prophet; his THEREFORE proves this.
It is the word that is specially used to introduce the conclusion as a result of something that has been previously stated, "Therefore" looks in two directions and is a splendid word with which to begin a New Year. It looks backward to the preceding sufficient cause, and forward to the infallible consequence. The consequence in Jeremiah's case was HOPE. "Therefore," says he, "I have hope," That is an inspiring thing to have; without it, life would be impossible; with it the heart is made strong to meet any trial, if, of course, the hope is not a false one.
But what was the cause that brought the prophet to this blessed conclusion? A strange one indeed. Hear him! He is in the midst of a great lament; with such gave expressions of sorrow. In this center section of it he tells in harrowing detail the story of his woe. An irresistible power had driven him into a tangled gloom, and his every effort to find a path to light and freedom only involved him in a deeper darkness and a denser thicket. He had struggled and strained for a way of escape, but it was in vain. "I cannot get out," he cried. His shouts for help brought him no helper, for he says, "I cry and shout, but He shutteth out my prayer." One answer only seemed to come to his agony, and that was the derisive laughter of his foes. Truly he was a man who had seen affliction and had drunk from the cup of wormwood and gall.
It would appear as though he had once lived in peace, and prospered, but that was long ago, or the magnitude of his calamities made it appear long ago, for now his soul was far removed from peace and he forgot prosperity, and utterly crushed and broken, he cries, "My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord." Could mortal man be so beset and buffeted and yet live? If his strength and hope had perished from the Lord, what had he more? Surely that was his last despairing gasp in the sea of despair in which he struggled swallowed him up! Yet that was not the end of the story, though it was indeed the prophet's extremity.
He can do no more, and his cries and struggles cease, and with a heart humbled within him, he dwells upon his experience, remembering his affliction and misery, the wormwood and the gall — as a man might remember, sitting before the dying embers in his fireplace with back bent and head bowed in hands and misery in his heart, while the winter storm moans and beats about his dwelling. A stricken man was this prophet, and a stricken man is a disillusioned man, disappointed man and a disappointed man is more likely to reason rightly than one who lives in dreams. As he remembered and reasoned, he arrived at his conclusion and got the solution of the great problem; then he lifted his long-bowed head and cried, "Therefore I have hope." Strange yet triumphant conclusion to be wrung from such unpromising premises!
A great logician was this weeping prophet.
But how could this be? And from whence came his hope? Let nature teach us. How deeply into the soil the ploughman thrusts his share, leaving in his wake a gaping furrow! To what purpose is this determined labor? Ah, a great purpose! He is preparing the ground for a miracle. The seed-basket shall follow the ploughshare and into the furrowed soil shall golden grain be cast. Then shall come the reapers, when rain and sun and summer months have done their work, and sheaves shall he gather home in the joy of harvest time. But the field would yield no harvest were it not first cut and seamed and ploughed. Because the ploughshare does its work in the soil there is hope. IF the ploughshare of adversity or sorrow left deep furrows in your soul, "therefore have hope." The good seed of the Word can take no root in a heart that has not been prepared for it. Therefore, the ploughing was needed, and the gaping wounds, and though the process is not joyous but grievous, yet afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby.
But to return to our prophet, for we must not miss the great message that he has for us at the opening of this New Year. He remembered the wormwood and the gall, but another cup had been put to his lips that, in his misery, he had almost forgotten — a cup of mercies. "It is of the Lord's mercies," he says, "that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not." "Therefore, we have hope." What was it that sustained our souls in the past when they were all but overwhelmed? The Lord's mercies! Therefore, we have hope. When other helpers failed and comforts fled, what was it that failed not? His compassions. For "His compassions are new every morning and great is His faithfulness." Aye, the sorrows did not come alone, the mercies followed hard upon their heels. Therefore, we have hope!
And suppose there were neither mercies nor compassions, What then? Then, "The Lord is my portion, says my soul; therefore, will I hope in Him." It is good to hear the song that hope sings break in upon the prophet's dirge, and to learn that the Lord was greater than his greatest sorrow, and it carries us into the New Testament, where hope not only sings her song, but sings it with a great confidence. "And not only so," says the Apostle, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation works patience; and patience, experience, and experience, hope; and hope makes not ashamed because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost that is given to us" (Rom. 5:3-5).
This is a word that will bear considering. Never did a trial visit any heart but it brought an experience with it, and everything depends upon whether that experience be the bitterness and resentment of an unsubdued will; or the indifference of a proud and unbroken heart; or of the sustaining mercies and compassion of the Lord. One of these three it must be, and if the last, which is always the experience of the humbled and contrite spirit, then way is made for hope to enter, not as a visitor only, but to abide as a most blessed companion.
And a wonderful teacher is this hope as she sings. She shows us that the present affliction is light, and the coming glories are exceeding and eternal in their weight, and that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed.
We begin the year with hope; the sorrows and the joys of the past — and the sorrows more than the joys — fill us with hope, and our hope makes not ashamed; it will not disappoint us, for it is based upon what God is — God whose matchless love we know, whose immutable word we trust, and whose Son we wait for — this is our blessed hope.