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every one puts the construction upon it which suits his own habits and inclinations, and takes for granted that his views of it are correct. But the truth is, that there is in this subject a need for the nicest discrimination, lest, on the one hand, we make the prohibition more strict than Jehovah himself intended it to be; or, on the other hand, give to it a latitude which is contrary to his mind, and ruinous to all who practically adopt it. A man who lives in monastic seclusion will be ready to say, that this passage
forbids all intercourse with the world : whilst a person living in an unrestrained commerce with the world, will see in it nothing that condemns the most unrestrained compliance with the maxims and habits of the world, provided they be not palpably and grossly immoral. În like manner they will differ as widely respecting the extent of the prohibition as the object of it; the one supposing that every degree of inclination towards the world is forbidden; the other, thinking himself at liberty to “wallow in earthly indulgences as a sow in the mireb." It is obvious therefore that we should enter on this subject with extreme caution ; determining with the greatest care, 1. The import of the terms
(What are we to understand by “ the world ?" In answer to this question, I should say, it comprehends all the things of time and sense, as standing in opposition to the things which relate to a better world. The Apostle Paul suggests to us this very distinction, when he says that we are to “ look, not at the things which are seen and are temporal, but at the things which are not seen and eternalo.” This will appear more clear, whilst we consider what is meant by “ loving" the world. We are not to understand by it every degree of attachment to it, but only such a degree as is inordinate, and such a degree as puts its object in competition with the things which are invisible and eternal. Amongst the things of time and sense must be reckoned a man's intercourse with his own family. Shall we then say, that a man ought to have no pleasure in the society of his own wife and children? Such an absurdity carries its own refutation along with it. Hence then I take the term, not in a positive, but comparative, sense; and regard it as importing, that we are not to give to any object of time and sense that kind or measure of affection which is due only to things of eternal moment.
b 1 Pet. ii. 22.
( 2 Cor. iv. 18.
The Apostle's own explanation of his meaning will throw further light on this matter. “ The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life,” are very generally understood as importing all those things which administer to sensual gratification; and those things which, when beheld, are apt to fascinate us with their attractions; and those things which men chiefly affect, as elevating them in the estimation of mankind; or, in other words, pleasure, and riches, and honour. And if to these we apply what was before specified as implied in the term “ love," we shall be prepared to determine with very considerable accuracy,] 2. The extent of the prohibition
[The word “ love" comprehends three things; esteem, desire, and delight: and, if we apply it in this extent to the various things above-mentioned, we shall, I think, understand with clearness the Apostle's meaning in our text. Some measure of love, I again say, the things of this world are entitled to: they may be esteemed, as gifts from a gracious God; they may be desired, as means of honouring him, and benefiting our fellow-creatures; and they may be delighted in, as conducive to our comfort, when rightly improved: for “ God has given us all things richly to enjoyd." But,
They are not to be esteemed, as though they possessed any intrinsic good. They are all in themselves empty, vain, perishing, and utterly incapable of administering any real comfort to the soul, or even of benefiting us at all, any farther than God shall be pleased to make use of them for that end.
They are not to be desired so as in the least degree to interfere with our pursuit of higher and better things. « Our affections are to be set on things above, and not on things on the earth." The two cannot, and must not, be put in competition with each other. The one, how dear soever in itself, must be despised and hated in comparison of the other: father, mother, wife, children, yea and our own life also, must be of no account with us, if they at all stand in our way of serving and honouring our God? His claims are paramount to every other; and there is nothing either in heaven or on earth to be desired in comparison of him 8.
They are not to be delighted in, as things in which, to whatever extent they were multiplied, we could be satisfied with taking up our rest. Job seems to have had singularly clear
d 1 Tim. vi. 17.
e Col. iii. 2.
and just views of this subject: “ If,” says he, “ I have made gold my hope, or have said to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence; if I rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because mine hand had gotten much; this were an iniquity to be punished by the judge, for then I should have denied the God that is aboveh.” Whoever he be that, on account of his earthly comfort, says, “ Soul, take thine ease,” is justly branded as a fool,” and to all eternity will find occasion to bewail his folly.]
With the help of these distinctions I think we may fix, with some precision, the true import of the injunction before us, and may proceed in a satisfactory manner to consider further, II. The reasons with which it is enforced
In confirmation of what he says respecting the world, the Apostle declares, 1. That it is not worthy of our love
[If we look at its nature, how base is it! “it is not of the Father, but of the world.” What is there in the whole circle of the world that can boast of an heavenly origin? Nothing, not an atom of it either comes from God, or leads to God, any farther than it is sanctified unto us by the covenant of grace. It is enjoyed by heathens, as well as by Christians: and what does it do for them? Yea, what does it advance the real welfare of the great mass of the Christian world ? It altogether arose out of the fall of man. In Paradise, the world was nothing; and God was all. It was not till sin had entered into the world, that the world and its lusts were put in competition with God, or that a love to present things had attained an undue ascendant over the soul. And were man still in his primeval innocence, all pleasures, riches, and honours would be of no account, any farther than God was enjoyed in them, and they were made subservient to his glory
Again ; if we look at its duration, it is altogether transient : “the fashion of this world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” What has the lover of this world of all that he has ever enjoyed? and how long will the savour of his present enjoyments abide with him? How long can he secure the continuance of them? and what will remain of them the moment he has departed hence ? On the other hand, if he love God, and do his will, he has a continual feast: his gratifications never cloy: his bliss will bear reflection, and be renewed by the retrospect: the consciousness that he has a taste for such enjoyments will itself
be a source of very sublime happiness; of a happiness which he will possess under the most afflictive circumstances, and which will sooth even the pangs of death itself: and this source of enjoyment, instead of being confined to this present life, will be infinitely enlarged, and afford inexhaustible supplies of bliss to all eternity.
Say then, brethren, whether this world is worthy of a Christian's affections? I do not hesitate to say, it is not: for it affords nothing that is capable of satisfying an immortal soul ; and the poor gratifications it does afford, are all perishing even whilst they are in our hands '. ]
2. That a love to it is absolutely incompatible with love to God
[How solemn is the declaration, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him? This, if delivered on man's authority, might be deemed uncharitable; but it is declared on the authority of God himself: and a very little reflection will convince us of the truth of it. Can any man conceive that an angel, if sent down from heaven to sojourn here for a time, would set his affections on things below? no; we are well assured, that he would have far juster views of earthly vanities, than to set his heart upon them: his taste would be too refined for such gross aliment. He would fulfil the duties that were assigned him, whatever they might be : but his heart would be with God; with God supremely, and with God alone. Thus then it should be with us : and thus it must be, if we be Christians indeed: for “ we cannot serve God and Mammonk:" " the very friendship of the world is enmity with God.” As the will or desire to serve the king's enemies, if it were clearly proved, would constitute us traitors to our king and country, even though we had not succeeded in our efforts, so the very will and desire to be the friends of the world is itself sufficient to prove and “constitute us enemies of God!." As the love of God grows in the soul, the love of the world abates: and, as the love of the world revives, the love of God decays: the two are as opposite to each other as light and darkness: and neither can prevail but by the expulsion of the other.
Again then I ask, is not here abundant reason for the injunction in my text? If the love of God and of the world could exist together, there were some reason for harbouring both : but as they are in direct and unalterable opposition to each other, we cannot but unite with the Apostle in this salutary admonition, "Love not the world.") i Col. ii. 22.
* Matt. vi. 24. 1 Jam. iv. 4. See the remarkable force of the words in the Greek.
Whilst, however, I cordially unite in this sentiment, I would add, 1. Be careful in passing judgment upon others
[There is scarcely any subject on which men are so prone to exercise a censorious disposition as this. They are ready to make their own habits, or at all events their own views, a standard for others: and the more strict any persons are in relation to themselves, the more apt they are to pass an uncharitable judgment upon others. But we are not capable of judging rightly for others, unless we can put ourselves exactly into their situation. A person in lower life has little conception of what may be proper for a person of opulence and distinction. Besides, there are a thousand. circumstances which may produce somewhat of a diversity of conduct in persons of equal rank and station. Persons in an inferior station are ready to think that the possession of things that are valuable or splendid, is wrong: but the text does not say, that we must not possess the world; for we may possess crowns and kingdoms: nor does it say that we may not use the world, or even find pleasure in it: for we may use it, and find pleasure in it too; since, as has been before observed, God has “ given us all things to enjoy, and richly to enjoy.” The prohibition relates to the heart and the affections, which are not to be set on the world, or on any thing in it, in comparison of God. And who can judge the heart? The man who lives in a palace may have far less love of the world, than his censorious neighbour that is living in a cottage. Let us judge ourselves as severely as we please : but let us leave our neighbour to be judged by him who knows the heart. " To his own master he standeth or falleth :" the rule for us to walk by is plain enough: "Judge not, that ye be not judged."] 2. Be firm and determined in your own course
(What you are to love, is here plainly declared : “ The love of the Father” is put in opposition to the love of the world : and “the doing of God's will,” in opposition to the seeking of any transient enjoyment. Let this then be your care, even to love and serve, not the creature but the Creator alone m." Here you need fear no excess. On the contrary, as the prohibition extends to the world and to all that is in it, so the command of loving God extends to him, and to all that is in him; his whole mind, his whole will, all his perfections, all his purposes, all his dispensations. In this respect you may learn of worldly men. See how faithful they are in their adherence to the world ; how active in its cause, how laborious
m Rom. i. 25.