Separation from the World!
Hetty Bowman, 1861
"Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him!" 1 John 2:15
Such is the injunction of a holy Apostle, one who was largely baptized with his Master's spirit of love, and had nothing in common with those rigid ascetics, who would make one continued act of self-mortification of life. Why, then, has he, or rather, why has the Spirit of God who inspired him, thought it needful to leave on record so stringent a command? Why, but because he knew that the "friendship of the world is enmity with God!" "If anyone loves the world — the love of the Father is not in him." He knew the delicate organization of the spiritual life, and therefore uttered an emphatic warning against its exposure to, the tainted atmosphere of a world that "lies in wickedness."
Well would it be, if the professing followers of Christ were more influenced by this warning, and more habitually realized their calling to be a peculiar people, chosen out of the world, though for a season they are compelled to remain in it.
"How far may I conform to the world without, compromising my Christian profession?" is a question which has often caused great perplexity to the believer. It is impossible to lay down a fixed rule by which all are to be tried; for, in forming a judgment as to a thing that is not in itself sinful, differences of temperament, and social position, with many other considerations, must be taken into account.
"I think," writes one, "the love of the world may show itself very differently in different people — and no one can altogether judge for another, whether they are indulging it or not, in what they do. But I believe conscience tells each child of God in secret. After all, our grand concern is, to aim at close walking with God, leaving Him to order our steps for us, and trusting Him so to order our way as best to enable us to walk closely with Him."
Each one must, therefore, trace out the path of duty for himself, and will always most easily discover it, in proportion as he is most fully walking in the light.
But we have always felt, that the question, as given above, is wrongly stated. If we have, indeed, been made to "sit in heavenly places" with a risen Savior, and taught to "set our affections on things above" — we shall inquire, not "How far may I conform to the world" — but "How far may I be separate from the world, without neglecting the special work which God has given me to do?"
It is a dangerous thing to speculate how nearly one may approach to the edge of a precipice, without peril of destruction. We cannot take fire into our bosoms — and expect not to be burned. We cannot play with coal — without having our garments sullied. Besides, if our ears have been opened to distinguish, however faintly, the echoes of the song they sing in glory — we shall care little for the poor music of this world.
It is not so much that we dare not mingle with the world — as that we have no desire to do so. We love the narrow way, strait and painful though it is — better than the broad way, with all its offered charms. We have lost our relish for such worldly pleasures. We are satisfied with the joys which Jesus gives, and we need no other. What have we to do with anything which would obscure our sight of the "hope set before us," on which we desire that our hearts should be entirely fixed?
Are we not strangers and pilgrims in this poor world? Do we not profess to seek a "better country, that is a heavenly one?" Then why should we entangle ourselves with that which will only hinder us in our progress? Why should we purposely add a heavy weight upon ourselves as we journey heavenwards? Rather let this be our answer, to all who would persuade us to loiter along the way, "I cannot tarry with you, for I am journeying to my heavenly home!"
But, although it is impossible to do more than lay down broad general rules, already framed for us by the Word of God, which speaks in this matter with no uncertain tone — we would, nevertheless, say a few words, in the spirit of Christian meekness, on a subject which, in the present day, is very frequently discussed. We allude to attendance on Concerts, which is considered by many truly good and pious men to be both innocent and allowable. Far be it from us to sit in judgment on the duty of another. We design only to offer one or two hints, which may perhaps assist the reader in coming to a decision.
It has been urged, in defense of Concerts, that music, which, we are led to suppose, will enter so largely in the employments of the heavenly rest, cannot surely be sinful on earth. No one can for a moment suppose that it is! Music, when ennobled, as it always will be, by being consecrated to God — is one of the greatest external aids to devotion, and often assists the lagging and earth-bound spirit to rise from things below to things above. And even when not sacred, it cannot reasonably be objected to, since it is one of the graceful adornments which make home happy, and often prevents the formation of a taste for more questionable amusements. Music is a strong link in the family bond, and frequently holds together what might else be a scattered flock. Nothing can be useless or hurtful, of which this can be said. Religion never was designed to narrow the circle of our pleasures. It rather purifies and elevates them! "
"Since I have known God in a saving manner," writes Henry Martyn, "painting, poetry, and music, have had charms unknown to me before. I have received what I suppose is a taste for them; for religion has refined my mind, and made it susceptible of impressions from the sublime and beautiful."
But this leaves the question of CONCERTS wholly untouched. It is necessary to distinguish between music in the quiet home — and music in the brilliant and crowded assembly-room. In the one case, there are accompaniments, which, in the other, are lacking. Besides, it is manifestly impossible to argue from what may be fitting in a state of holiness and purity — to what may be expedient in a state of imperfection and sin. "Unto the pure, all things are pure; but unto those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure." We must not separate antecedents from their consequences; or forget that what is, in itself, harmless — may become pernicious when it gives occasion to evil. This must always be dreaded here below, but the fear will be needless when sin shall cease to be in Heaven.
Thus, it may be no more sinful, considered per se, to listen to music at a Concert, than it is to handle cards and dice — yet no one can defend gambling. It is against the consequences of both of these things that objections may be brought. It may be said that the two are not alike. The one tends to refine, and elevate, and soften human nature — the other tends to debase it. Be it so. The fact cannot be contradicted. Nevertheless, we think it can be shown that both lead to evil, though the evil differs in kind, and in degree.
To confine ourselves to the subject which we at first proposed to consider: Let every Christian, laying aside prejudice, and with earnest prayer for Divine guidance, calmly and dispassionately inquire whether his own personal piety is not injured by mingling in scenes of worldly amusement. Is not the warmth of his love for Christ chilled? Is not the fine edge of his spiritual affections blunted? Can he solemnly implore God's blessing on what he is about to do? Can he pray that he may enjoy the sense of His presence, may adorn His doctrine, and glorify His name?
Can he feel that he is going where he may do his heavenly Master's work — may be made instrumental in converting souls to God, or in strengthening his weaker brethren? Who does not feel that to introduce religious conversation in such a place would be to offend against every rule of propriety? Yet surely, the Christian should not go where the name of Christ is not to be mentioned!
Again, can the believer truly say, that, by time so spent, he is more fitted to enjoy that close and holy fellowship with the Savior, which it should be his one great object to attain? Is he able to return from the Concert-room to the stillness of his prayer closet, and there, without more than ordinary distraction — draw near to his Father's throne, with the consciousness that His eye is resting upon him, as on a beloved and obedient child? And when the sacred page is opened, do not his thoughts still wander to the mirthful scenes which he has left? Instead of his listening to the sweet words of Him who "spoke as never man spoke," do not the strains of music still linger in his ear, and float persistently around him? Does not his spirit seem more than usually chained down to the things of sense and time, and more than ever sluggish in soaring upward, on the wings of faith, towards the fair hopes and joys of another world?
And when there are so many unavoidable hindrances, so many rugged and difficult places along the narrow way — we have but little need to add to them by those we fashion for ourselves.
Yet, once more, "The time is short!" The arrows of the destroyer are flying thick and fast around us. Who can tell but that the one may even now be on its way which is to summon us before the judgment-seat? And shall it find us at a Concert? Shall it call us from thence to render up our account unto Him "in whose sight the very heavens are not clean," and "who will not allow any iniquity" in His children? Do we not shrink from the thought? Should we not be ready to exclaim, if, with our bodily eyes, we could see the hand of death outstretched to touch us with its icy fingers, "Not here, oh! not here!" Then, surely, since there is but a step between us and eternity — we ought not to go where we would not wish to die!
But even supposing that all these questions could be satisfactorily answered, and allowing that we could venture into such scenes without injury to ourselves individually — there is yet other ground to fall back upon. Let us not forget the Apostle Paul's maxim, "All things are lawful unto me — but all things are not expedient." He abstained even from that which was in itself innocent — lest by any means he might cast a stumbling-block in the way of a weaker brother. Would that we all were partakers of his spirit!
We believe that the example of those professing Christians who over-step the boundary line between light and darkness, is productive of very great evil. The world is keen-eyed to discover inconsistency. It is quick to mark the slightest blemish in the symmetry of Christian character. And, as such, it will not fail to stigmatize the very least deviation from its own severe and lofty standard of judgment. Its honest and hearty esteem will invariably be given to an "undiluted Christianity" — in preference to a halting compromise between two opinions, notwithstanding the former may seem to be regarded with aversion and dislike.
Besides, if we give in, even a little, to the customs and fashions of those around us who know not God — we shall find it difficult to assign a stopping-place. Where shall we fix the line of demarcation? If we go so far — then why may we not go a few steps farther? If we ourselves do not argue thus, others will do it for us. Thus some "lingerer" may say, "Miss _______ was at the Concert last week; she is religious — and yet she did not think it wrong to go. So, surely, there can be no harm done if I go to the ball."
We say nothing whatever as to the correctness of this reasoning — but only that it is extremely likely to be employed. And so, it may be, holy impressions are effaced — the warning voice of the Spirit is quelled, and His gracious influence resisted. Then one downward step follows another, until the last conducts to eternal damnation! One link after another is added to the chain, until it becomes, at length, so strong that the captive is held fast forever!
Christian professor, are you guiltless? Oh! it is a fearful thing to turn back some inquiring one, who, perhaps, was not far from the kingdom of God! Take these considerations home, dear reader, to your own heart and conscience. Spread them before God in prayer, and ask Him to make you willing to obey Him in all things, at whatever cost to your own desires and inclinations.
If you remain still unconvinced, we can say no more, for God forbid that we should judge of another's liberty. Only take heed, "lest through your liberty, that weak brother perish for whom Christ died." Without wishing to dictate or judge, we would affectionately entreat Christians to consider whether, in going further than this, they are not endangering their own spirituality, and making the narrow way still more perplexing for the weak ones of the flock.
We have made no allusion to DANCING, nor is it necessary that we should do so. The defender of the Concert cannot honestly pass a severe judgment upon the Dance — and the converse is equally true. T he arguments for and against, though slightly differing, are alike weak, and alike strong in both cases. Both, taking into account the preparation required — involve a large expenditure of time and money, given for very different purposes. Both are alike dissipating to the mind, and pernicious to the spiritual health. But if we have not succeeded in showing the inconsistency of the one, we have little hope of doing so as respects the other.
Once more we, say — let us not he misunderstood, as uncharitably branding the defenders and attenders of Concerts as deceivers of themselves and others. We believe that there are among them many who are sincerely and earnestly desirous to "walk as children of light." Yet, we would beg them to consider whether they are thus aided in so doing, or whether, instead of "laying aside every weight" — -they are not rather taking up some heavy weights which are by no means necessary.
But, after all, our main business is with the heart. If the root is right — the branches will take care of themselves. Look inward, then, dear reader, and see that the mainspring is true and steady. If it is not, all your efforts at external regulation will be useless. You must put your heart into the hands of the great Master-Worker, to be controlled and governed — and then the action of the whole will be harmonious. When the magnet of your affections points to Him who is truly your guiding Star — then the attraction of earthly things will scarcely have power to make it tremble.
If some of the holy men of a former generation could once more return to the scene of their labors and sorrows — what would they find among those who profess to follow in their steps?
Would they witness the same decision, the same faithfulness, the same unyielding adherence to principles which involve contempt and scorn, the same resolute separation from everything that is even questionable in its tendency — which characterized their own walk in the world?
Would they not rather be grieved by the levity, the trifling, the inconsistency which are too often displayed — even by those whose names are enrolled in the list of professing Christians?
Would they not be amazed at the slender barrier which divides those who are in the world — from those who say that they have renounced it?
Would they not be bewildered by the strange mixture of good and evil which is presented by many who bear the name of Christ; one day to be found in the committee-room of some religious society — and the next at a dance; one day at a prayer-meeting — and the next day at a concert?
Deeply would their hearts be saddened by these things, and mournfully would they exclaim, "How has the fine gold become dim!"
It is to be feared that the religion of the day is, in many respects, of too easy a nature. We know . . .
little of sacrifice,
little of deliberate counting the cost, and
little of forsaking all for Christ's sake!
It is true that this is comparatively little needed as it was in by-gone times. The open confession of Christ does not now involve, as once it did, the estrangement of friends, and the ridicule of acquaintances. The days are passed when the bare suspicion of having become a "Methodist," was sufficient to exclude from the pale of polite society. Now the tide has set in a contrary, direction, and, to use the quaint, but forcible language of Bunyan, "Religion now goes in silver slippers."
But it may be questioned whether the cause of God has, in reality, gained much by the change. The calm is more perilous than the storm — the world's smile is more dangerous than its frown. The river which is deep and rapid when hemmed in by rocks on either hand, becomes sluggish when its course lies through the fertile plain.
Truly the Church of God, in these latter days, has need to watch that she be not found lingering in the plains of Sodom, instead of pressing forward, with girded loins and hastening step, to the Zoar which she has set out to seek. Let her take heed, lest He who "walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks," visits her suddenly with the rod of His wrath, and lest her slumber be broken by the unlooked-for coming of the Bridegroom.
But, as the Church is composed of individual believers, let each one of us search and see whether the voice of conscience harmonizes with the dictates of the Word of God. Do not hesitate, my reader, fearlessly to rank yourself on the Lord's side. Listen to the command to "come out and be separate," and be assured that, in obeying it, you will experience a peace such as the world cannot give. The joy that is "unspeakable and full of glory," will never be yours if you tarry upon the debatable ground.
Go forward! Beware of that dwarfish Christianity which is content with simply having a " name to live." Rest in nothing short of a full participation in all the blessings and privileges of the new covenant. Seek to know your place in your Father's heart of love — and then no earthly thing will tempt you thence. Oh, leave the broken cisterns of this poor world, which can never quench your spirit's fevered thirst. Cast yourself upon the fullness of God's grace and mercy, and pray that His own hand may satisfy you with the riches that are treasured up in Christ.
Pray that you may be "strengthened, established, settled;" not like the slender sapling, which is swayed this way and that by every changing wind, but like the full-grown tree, whose roots have penetrated deep and far, and whose boughs are laden with goodly fruit. Live so that all may know "whose you are, and whom you serve."
Remember that, of every one who has enlisted under the "banner of Christ crucified" — it is required to fight manfully against a triple rank of enemies, "sin, the world, and the devil." Therefore, "take unto you the whole armor of God." Let "Christ in you" be the watchword of your warfare, and the crown of glory the prize which you toil to win. This, this is "the victory that overcomes the world, even your faith" — faith which enables you to dwell, even while on earth, so near the unseen world, that when, at length, you are called to go thither, you may find it no strange country, but a long-loved and familiar home!