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JOHN XVII. 15. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world ; but that thou shouldest keep them from
the evil. If we judge of the importance and difficulty of Christian duties by the manner in which they are enjoined, and the frequency of their recurrence, few will appear more arduous than that of “overcoming the world.” No topic, for instance, is more prominent than this, in the last solemn prayer of our Savior for his disciples. Nine or ten times is the subject there introduced ; and in so peculiarly affecting a manner in the text, that we cannot doubt either of its immediate relation with all the parts of practical Christianity, or of its necessity as a proof of our love to our dying Lord. In fact, The means of preservation from the dangers of the world, which is our present inquiry, involves almost every question connected with that spiritual life by which we are taken out from the habits of a fallen race, and sustained in a new and heavenly spirit and conduct. May we enter upon it with humble prayer to the Holy Ghost for assistance and grace !
I. In considering the first division of our subject, The dangers of the world, it is obvious, that as res. pected the disciples for whom our Lord more immediately offered the prayer of the text, they were of two kinds. Some were peculiar to their situation as apostles about to found a new religion on the faith of their Master's divine mission, and to proclaim his resurrection in the face of enraged multitudes of Jews and Gentiles. They were to go forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.” The “preaching of the cross would be to the Jew a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness." The time was about to
“ when whosoever killed them, would think that he did God service.” With this class of perils we are now less concerned.
The second kind, however, is common to all the servants of God, from one age to another; with circumstances infinitely various, but all agreeing in the main principles and effect. These perils are the same substantially to us, as to the first disciples, or to St. Paul, or St. Peter, or St. John; the same to us as to the prophets and kings and patriarchs of old; as to Noah, and Lot, and Abraham, and Moses, and Samuel, and Jeremiah, and Malachi. We have only to abstract the particular circumstances, and then the instructions, warnings, consolation, doctrine become our own.
Accordingly, in our baptism we renounce still, every one of
the Devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh ;” and when we are signed with the sign of the cross, it is “in token that we should not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, but manfully to fight under his banners against the world, the flesh, and the Devil, and continue Christ's faithful soldier and servant unto our life's end."
By the term, world, is to be understood in gene
ral all the things and persons around us ; whatever is subject to the senses ; all that is secular, external, tangible; the whole mass of mankind, with the various scenes of the earth which we inhabit, and with which our affections and duties are mixed up.
The term thus stands opposed to the spiritual life, which includes every thing that is interior, unseen, spiritual, eternal; and all our habits, affections, and actions, so far as they are governed by spiritual motives and principles.
To be “ of the world," is to belong to the body of mankind as fallen creatures, and to have willing and habitual intercourse with them in their maxims, pursuits, tastes, pleasures, lusts, estimate of good and evil, vain forms of religious service, and merely intellectual and scientific schemes of happiness : whilst, on the other hand, to be “not of the world,” is to be in communion with Christ as our spiritual head, and to have fellowship with the whole body of the faithful in all the principles, habits, and feel. ings of the spiritual life ; and to live agreeably thereto.
This distinction proceeds upon the doctrine of the Fall. The world as God created it, was a different thing from what it has now become. Whilst man continued in a state of innocency, there was no danger from the world. It stood not in opposition to the spiritual life, but was its handmaid and helper. Every outward object reminded Adam of his Creator. Every idea he received by the impression of the senses from without, gave him some better conception of his divine Benefactor. His temporal blessings and duties did not turn away his affections from his God, nor betray him into any undue love of the creature. There was no danger of excess, nor need of caution. His mind was innocent and pure. Every faculty was in its place. It was not possible for man to receive harm from the world, because it
was in itself “very good,” and he had no seeds of harm in his own composition and temper.
But now man is fallen. He has become fleshly, carnal, sensual. He has lost the spiritual life. He has no real love nor delight in God and spiritual things. The faculties of his soul are in disorder. The appetites are not in obedience to the will and conscience. The understanding, the queen of the soul, is darkened, and has lost her rule over the other powers. The senses are now the inlets to temptation. The persons and things about us are now, through the mischief latent in the heart, a constant snare to us. Earthly things outweigh heavenly. The body is regarded, not the soul; time, not eternity; pleasure, not duty. The seductions and terrors of our fellow creatures exclude the authority and love of God.
The command, therefore, now is, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” The denunciation now is, “ The
friendship of the world, is eumity with God.” The sentence now pronounced is, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” The change which Christianity now requires is, “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind;" and the distinction between “the pure and undefiled religion" of the disciple of Christ, and that of a man who “ bridleth not his tongue but deceiveth his own heart," is, that he “keeps himself unspotted from the world.”
The governing principle of the world is termed in Scripture, “the earthly mind ;” “the minding of the flesh;" the being “dead in trespasses and sins ;" the “fulfilling of the desires of the flesh and of the mind;" the being “sensual, and not having the Spirit;" "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life.” Just as the governing principle of the new and spiritual life, is "the spiritual mind;"
the “minding spiritual things ;” the “walking with God;" the “living after the Spirit ;" “the setting our affections on things above;" the being “dead, and having our life hid with Christ in God.” Thus far, I trust, all is clear.
The dangers, then, of the world arise from all those various seductions or terrors which spring from the persons and things around us, in consequence of the hold which they have generally on our fallen nature, and on our particular characters, affections, and duties.
The matter or elements of these seductions and terrors, are in a great part innocent in themselves, and become dangerous or sinful only through our abuse of them. The parent of the family is to "provide for his own house." The master to "give his servant what is just and equal.” The servant to master in all things.” All the ranks and orders in Society, from the prince on the throne to the humblest artisan, are to be “diligent in business." Each one is “to occupy with his talent.” The pursuits of art and science, the discoveries of philosophy, the contemplation of the wonders of creation; jurisprudence, geography, chronology, poetry, history are all innocent in themselves.
1. But here arises the first class of perils to the soul-Excess in lawful things. Perimus in licitis. When external duties absorb our affections, when they indispose for spiritual meditation, when they exclude the love of God, when they distract the mind in prayer, when they are pushed into the Sabbath or a part of the Sabbath, when they fill the field. of vision, and prevent their just weight being given to spiritual and eternal realities, they then become, so far and as to us, unlawful. The men in the days of Noe and of Lot, as well as the guests in the parable of the marriage banquet, are not accused of open crimes ; they were engaged in things of themselves lawful;