Ashton Oxenden, 1884
There are certain ideas sometimes expressed regarding the world, which are unsound and unreal, and therefore require a little adjusting. Let us apply the Touchstone, and endeavor to get at the truth.
Now, this world of ours is the place which God has chosen for our present abode. It is His world — it is full of His works — and there is much in it that is very lovely. Ought we not then, in a certain measure, to regard it with favor? Surely it was never intended that we should look upon it with dislike and scorn, speaking of it with a sweeping condemnation — our God never meant that we should. What He did mean was that we should not love what is sinful in the world. We should not be tied down to its wicked customs, or follow its evil practices, or be drawn away by its follies. Therefore He cautions us not to love the world (1 John 2:15).
But this is not all. He means more than this — that we must not be so taken up even by what is harmless in the world, as to love it to excess. For truly there is much in the world which, though not actually hurtful, may become hurtful to us — much that may steal away the heart, and shut out the love of God.
Take, for instance, our Daily Occupations. It is quite right that we should attend to them. The Christian may serve God without neglecting his worldly calling. Nay, it is a part of his duty to glorify God by an active, zealous attention to that work which has been given him to do, and to do it in a Christian manner. Paul bids us to be 'fervent in spirit, serving the Lord,' and yet at the same time not to be 'slothful in business.' We learn too from the Gospels, that when John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness, and crowds came to listen to his teaching — some Publicans or Tax gatherers stepped forward, and said, 'Master, what shall we do?' And what was his answer? Did He say to them, 'You must leave your employment, if you would be real Christians?' No, He told them to follow it, but with greater honesty and integrity. 'Collect no more taxes than the government requires.' Their former sin had consisted in doing their worldly duties in a wicked way — their future religiousness was to consist in doing those duties in a holy way.
Next came some Soldiers. 'Master, what shall we do?' He does not say, 'You must put down your sword, and serve your country no more.' But he tells them to be more considerate, and less hasty, in the discharge of their duty: 'Do not extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.'
But the danger is, when we allow our worldly occupations to take up too much of our attention — when we set our hearts upon them, and allow them that place in our affections which ought to be given to God — when they are permitted to come first in our daily thoughts and desires, and to stand uppermost and foremost in our minds — when, in fact, the heart, which was made large enough for God, is allowed to waste itself upon the world.
Neither, again, is it the will of God that we should be debarred from loving our fellow-men who are in the world, as if He were jealous of our love being given to them; and as if we should be inclined to love Him the more for loving them the less. Surely He would have us love our Parents, our Brothers, our Sisters, our Friends — with all the intensity of the heart's affections. This certainly was not John's forbidden world.
Next, I must say a word or two about the PLEASURES and AMUSEMENTS of the world.
Now, God never meant His people to hang down their heads, and go mourning all the day. He loves to see us cheerful and happy. There is an innocent mirth, which it is quite lawful for us to indulge in. But there are some amusements in the world which are actually sinful in themselves — or lead to sin and forgetfulness of God; and there are others too, which become sinful when they are followed with undue eagerness.
For instance, it is quite lawful for us to have Friends, and to love them, and to feel a happiness in being with them. But when we cannot do without their society, when we find it irksome to be alone, when we grow fond of being always in company — then our very friends and companions become a snare to us, and we try, by going into the world, to forget ourselves, and to escape from those thoughts which may be pressing us too closely.
I confess that I tremble for the amount of worldliness which prevails in some professing Christian families. There is a great danger, lest pleasure and excitement should be regarded as the one object to be sought after — lest Jesus should be robbed of His true allegiance — and hearts, born for higher and better things, should be drawn down to earth, and riveted there by a chain not easily broken.
Oh, how soon — how fatally soon — we pass, imperceptibly perhaps, from things lawful to those which are doubtful — and then a step further, to those which are positively sinful! How soon does the heart, in which there was once a spark of the love of Christ — become chilled and warped by its contact with the world! How soon does the reading of light and frivolous books take the place of that precious Word, which is truth itself! And how soon is communion with God, exchanged for fellowship with the world!
I do indeed tremble for those who are dreaming away the best portion of their lives, who are spending them in vanity and emptiness, and will one day wake up with the miserable feeling that they have lived to no real purpose!
Did our Lord live thus, when here on earth? Did the early Christians live thus? Can you suppose for a moment that this was the life that Peter led, or Mary of Bethany, or Aquila and Priscilla, or John? Then we cannot live thus. No, unless we are willing to give up the Savior, whom we have pledged ourselves to follow, and the glorious inheritance we profess to be living for.
The question is: Are we candidates for everlasting happiness? If we are, then we must live, not for this world, but for another. Our hearts and our treasure must be there.
But there is a danger into which some fall. There are some people who imagine that they are giving up the world, when, in fact, they are merely transferring their attachment from one class of worldliness to fix it upon another. Parties and theaters are perhaps put aside — when other amusements of a kindred nature, and scarcely less attractive, are indulged in. This however is not self-denial — it is still enjoying the world, though in another shape — it is turning aside from one kind of self-pleasing, that we may indulge in another.
It is a great thing to be honest with ourselves; for God is not mocked. If you really desire to follow Jesus and to renounce the world, you must mortify your earthly affections — and raise them by private prayer, and by other direct acts of faith, to things above.
In the sense then that I have mentioned, we are clearly told not to love the World. But for what reason is this warning given us? Why is this world of ours unworthy of our love?
First, because its spirit is directly tit variance with God. 'Don't you know (says the Apostle) that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore will be the friend of the world, is the enemy of God.' James 4:4
What do we find, if we mix much among worldly people? Do we not find that God is put aside? He is thrust out of His proper place. People seem to make a sort of agreement that He shall for a time be forgotten. But how sad to think that our best and truest Friend — that Friend whose presence and support we shall one day so much need — that this dear Friend should ever be forcibly excluded from our hearts, and the world with all its trifles let in! And yet so it is with the ordinary run of men.
Ought we not then, as followers of Christ, to stand aside from a thoughtless, trifling world? Is not the beaten path sometimes an unsafe path? Is not the stream that flows the smoothest sometimes nearest to the precipice? Take care lest you are gliding down the stream of this world — lest you are walking in the road which hundreds walk in, and then suddenly find out that it is the way of eternal destruction!
Another reason why we should not love the world, is because its joys are at best unsatisfying. They are like alcohol to a thirsty man, which only make him thirst the more. They will never satisfy his desire, but only feed it. The worldly man, whether he is seeking after earthly pleasures, or earthly gains — is ever seeing a paradise in the distance; but the nearer he approaches it, the more sure it is to vanish, like an optical illusion, from his sight. It is thought of in his midnight dreams, and in his waking hours; but it is very seldom realized.
How different are those things which come from God! There is a substance and reality in them, which cannot be mistaken.
There is another reason why you should not love the world — and that is because it is only temporary — its joys and gains are merely for a time. There is a shifting, fleeting, fading character about them. If only the greatness and blessedness of the eternal world be a real thing with you, then you will at once see how poor this world is in comparison.
This world is but a Tent, spread out for our present abode — Heaven is a building of God, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
This world is but a passing shadow — Heaven an enduring substance.
This world a pilgrimage — Heaven is a home.
This world is a desert — Heaven a paradise.
This world is a strange land — Heaven is the place of our citizenship.
This world abounds with storms — Heaven is a universal calm.
This world is full of changes — in Heaven our lot will be forever fixed.
This world is the abode of sin, and shame, and sorrow — Heaven is a scene of holiness, of glory, and of God.
Then ought we not to look upwards? Ought we not to set our affection on things above? We have a great work, and a perilous journey before us. Take care that you do not loiter along the way. Hasten on. Let your motto be, 'I press toward the mark!'
It is a great mistake to suppose that we must go out of the world for safety. There is no need for us to hide ourselves in some nook and corner to escape its dangers. We are to do as much good as we can while we are here — to put our talents to the very best account, and to show plainly that, although in the world, we are not of the world — but that we have our eyes fixed on a better country, even a heavenly one!
It is not, I know, easy to take a decided and unworldly course. It will cost you much. Your conduct will be carped at, and counted folly. Yes, the stream is strong — and you must stem it. The way is steep and narrow — we do not deny it. But then how blessed to be following Christ! How safe are those who are walking closely by His side!
But this difficulty often presents itself. Sometimes we scarcely know how to act for the best. 'Shall I be right in doing this or that thing — or going to this or that place?' This is a question which often comes before us — and it is very perplexing to a really earnest mind. Let me try and help you by giving you two directions, which you may always have before you.
One is — Be very careful never to put yourself in the way of the world's temptation. If, against your will, you are thrown into circumstance of temptation — then in that case God is ready to give you grace to come out unharmed. But never thrust yourself into such an evil path. For if you do this, and then expect God to keep you — then you will be mistaken.
Let us take an instance. A job may be offered to you — a job of worldly advantage — but one in which it would be difficult to serve God faithfully. Now, in such a case, to accept it would be to put yourself in the way of temptation — and therefore to debar yourself from God's protection, and to risk the safety of your soul. Whereas boldly to refuse it would be your duty, and in the end your happiness.
Or you may have entered upon some occupation or amusement, which you may after a while discover to be gradually deadening your heart, and unfitting you for the inner work of heart-devotion. Then, as you value your soul, at once turn from it, and give it up. Better to displease some, and to lose face with others — better to be despised for Christ's sake — than to forfeit the favor of God, and to miss the heavenly prize!
Again, when you find the world creeping in, at once check yourself, and be upon your guard. Even Christian people, who in many respects have given up the world, who flatter themselves that they have altogether put it aside, and are beyond its reach — may still have very worldly thoughts and feelings. Oh, remember, the world may be in your heart — though not in your actions! You may love the world, and secretly pine after it — though you have outwardly renounced it.
I have more to say on this subject, and shall therefore speak of it in the next section, where I shall show you that there is a right way of using the world.
May God help us, while in the world, to live near to Him! May He be with us in our conflicts! May He be as a Sun to cheer us, and a Shield to protect us! And may He bring us at last to that eternal rest which He has prepared for those who truly love Him, and earnestly desire to serve Him!
In the last section I showed you what 'the World' is, which we are charged not to love. I pointed out to you that the Christian is bound to avoid all that is actually sinful in the world, and also that which, though innocent in itself, becomes sinful when allowed to be too engrossing. He must not love it — and indeed, if the love of the Father is in him, he will not and cannot love it.
But there is a right way of treating the world, and there is a blessing to be obtained from it. It is not to be scorned and trampled upon — as if it were all evil; nor to be rejected, as altogether worthless. Paul tells us very differently — he speaks of 'using this world, as not abusing it.'
It has been said that 'the element of Fire is a gift of Heaven, when we use it for the purpose of light and warmth — but it becomes a flake of Hell when we let it loose over the sleeping city, or the fruitful plains. Even so the world is a blessed angel to us — if we make it our servant; but it is a malignant demon to us — if it becomes our master.'
Let us see then how we can use the world to our profit.
First, I would say, by endeavoring to fill rightly our several relationships in life. There was a time when our Lord put this test before His followers, 'Are you willing to leave father and mother, husband, wife, children, lands, and possessions, for My sake?' Thank God, He does not put us under this searching requirement now — though, if He did, I hope that some would be found, who could yield up all that is most dear to them — could empty their hearts of all their deepest affection — and in answer to the question, 'Do you love Me more than these?' could say, 'Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you!' 'There is none upon earth that I desire in comparison with you.'
But, I say, our Lord in His tender mercy does not require this of us now. He allows us to love — yes, and with intense affection — those whom He has given to us, so long as they do not usurp His supreme place in our hearts. These are not what we are cautioned not to love. This is not the forbidden world. But how are we to fill our relationships in the world?
Are you a Parent? Let the very image of your heavenly Father be reflected in your conduct. Bring up your children for Him. Let your love towards them be the counterpart of His love towards you.
Are you a Son or a Daughter? Let a spirit of dutiful obedience mark your actions. Let your great aim be to honor, to please, and to comfort your parents.
Are you in a high position? Be not over-anxious to have the preeminence among your fellow-men — to display your talents, or your wealth, so as to attract their admiration. But rather strive to use your influence for good — and remember that your position is like that of 'a city which cannot be hidden.'
Or are you occupying a humbler place in the world? Then, you also have a certain amount of influence, which you may exercise for Christ. You too may shine in that special walk of life which has been chosen for you.
You should use this world then, and that particular position in it which God has caused you to fill, for Him. And then, whether rich or poor, great or lowly — you will spread a blessing around you, and leave a Christian mark behind you.
In our worldly employments too, we should endeavor to serve God. Whether we be ministers, or merchants, or tradesmen, or laborers — whatever our calling may be — we should let our Christianity be apparent in that calling. We should take our stand as servants of God. Ours should be not a mere worldly standard, but a Christian standard. Unswerving truthfulness, an honesty that will face the light, a rectitude which cannot be impeached, a high tone bearing the gospel impress — these should characterize all our dealings in the world. All such done as in God's sight, and with our eye ever looking for His approval, will doubtless be acceptable to Him.
Instead of regarding the hours employed in our trade, or our profession, as so much time taken away from the religious life — we should rather look upon it as the appointed sphere in which that life may display itself.
When the man, from whom the Legion had been expelled, asked Jesus to allow him to continue altogether with Him — our Lord in His reply sent him back to his home and his calling; showing that in the right discharge of his worldly duties he would best glorify God. So you see that the following of a trade or profession is not only consistent with true religion — but it is often the chief sphere in which our religion shows itself.
Further, whatever we possess in this world — we should use it for God's glory.
Our TIME should be employed for Him, not expended upon ourselves, not wasted or frittered away in useless pursuits — but employed for God.
Our FOOD is not given us to pamper our appetites, but to strengthen us. We must not, as some do — live to eat and drink, but eat and drink to live. The Apostle bids us, 'Whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do — to do all to the glory of God.'
Our MONEY too should be carefully expended. It may otherwise be a great snare to us, dragging us down to ruin by slow degrees. For we are told that 'the love of money is the root of all evil!' And are we not warned that it is hard for a rich man — yes, impossible for one who trusts in riches — to enter the kingdom of Heaven?
But if our money be used in a Christian way — what an important means of usefulness it may prove! How much good we may do with it! How greatly we may forward the work of God! How we may encourage those who are laying themselves out for Christ and His service! There are around us works going on — distinctly Christian works — which by our apathy we may positively check — but by our hearty interest, by our energy, and by our contributions, we may effectually promote.
Once more, we should use this world as a mere dwelling-place, and not as our home. There are some who so love the world, that they have no wish to exchange it for Heaven. They have made their nest here, and have no desire to leave it. Others again cling to life, not because it is dear to them; but because the future is dark, and they fear to enter it. Thus we see them clinging to the world, though it has been anything but a joyous world to them. Yes, and clinging to it more tenaciously as years go on; for the tree has struck its roots so deep in the ground, that it is hard to root it up.
But thank God, there are others, who though they are happy enough here, are ever in a state of readiness to fly away and be at rest — to depart and be with Christ, which is far better! This world is to them only as an inn, in which they are sojourners for a while — but their home is above. This world is a strange land, through which they are passing, on their way to the 'better country.'
And now, I have two things more to say on this subject. I have a word of caution, to put you on your guard; and also a word of encouragement, to help you.
My CAUTION is this —
Do not attempt what hundreds attempt — do not endeavor to accomplish what cannot be accomplished — namely, to make room in your heart for the love of the world, and also the love of the Jesus. They cannot exist together. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.
There are numbers trying to mix up the two. But what is the consequence in such cases? If we could look into these hearts, especially if they have experienced something of the power of grace within — we would find the religious life flagging; its beauty and its brilliancy paling away; the warmth of its love chilled, as it passes through the cold atmosphere of the world, having lost as it were, all its power!
No, we cannot serve two masters! We cannot drink the cup of the Lord — and yet quaff the sweet but poisonous cup of the world! One or other must be put aside — one or other must gain the day.
Choose then between the two. Draw for yourself a broad line of demarcation. Draw it boldly, meekly, prayerfully, thoughtfully — and, having drawn it, never overstep it. Hearken to the call of Him who is your truest Friend, 'Come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.'
And now for a word of ENCOURAGEMENT. We ask you to give up the world. This is no small demand — it will cost you much to give it up. But then we offer you more than an equivalent. And surely, since the heart is capable of loving God Himself, it is sad, very sad, to see it wasting itself on a cold, narrow, and unsatisfying world.
When we tell you then not to love the world — we also tell you of something better which you may love. We would not wish to drive the world out of your heart — and then leave it empty. It must love something. You cannot give a pent-up stream its choice of drying up or flowing on. It must, after a while, rush on either in a right or wrong channel. Direct it rightly, and it will flow joyously through the meadows, fertilizing them in its onward course. But attempt to block up its passage — and it will soon force its way, a thing of madness and of ruin. Stop it you cannot — it must flow in one direction or another.
So it is with the heart. Let it not take its own course, unfettered and free — for then we shall have the riot of worldliness. But let us ask God to bring us under the gentle bondage of His grace. Ask Him to drive out the world — and to fill the empty void with His own presence. Ask Him to shed abroad His own love in your heart. This will satisfy all your craving. To love God — to have our hearts filled with His love — this is our highest happiness! Then shall we have no need to go hither and thither with our broken cisterns — but there will be within us 'a well of water springing up unto everlasting life!'