Victory over the World!
George Everard, 1866
"Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life!" Revelation 2:10
The promises in Scripture are made to conquerors. Grace in the heart conquers a believer's foes — and then grace places on his head the crown of life. In the Epistles to the seven Churches of Asia, the same note is repeated again and again. Each promise, that of a crown of life, of eating the hidden manna, of being a pillar in the temple of God, of sitting with Christ on His throne — is made "to him who overcomes."
Among other enemies, we must overcome the world. Victory over it is God's seal upon the heaven-born soul. "Whoever is born of God overcomes the world." (1 John 5:4)
A question here needs to be considered: What is to be understood by "overcoming the world"?
1. To overcome the world, is to not direct our course by that of the multitude around us.
Ever since the fall, mankind have been going astray. The stream has been running in a wrong direction. Men have chosen the bitter instead of the sweet — and the evil instead of the good.
There is a highway, broad and flowery, and along it the multitudes are ever traveling. There is a narrow and holy path, leading through the world to an eternal glorious home — yet few can be persuaded to choose it.
There is a ship gaily decorated, flags flying, and the name written on its bow, "The glory of the world!" Within it embark crowds of passengers. There is another ship, less ostentatious but far safer, bound on a voyage to Heaven, her name "Emmanuel!" Yet within her, few are willing to sail.
When has there been a time in the history of the Church, when its living members have been more than a little flock?
In the days of Noah but eight souls were saved in the ark, and among them were some at least not born of God. In the days of Elijah, out of the ten thousands of Israel — but seven thousand men were there, who had not bowed the knee to Baal. In the days of the prophet Isaiah, there was but "a very small remnant."
When the Son of man was upon earth, He reminded His disciples that those who would follow Him must be content to have but few companions: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction — and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life — and there are few who find it." Matthew 7:13-14
Is it otherwise even now? Where is there a city, a town, a village, of which more than a small part are true Christians? Where the truth has been most clearly proclaimed, and the greatest efforts made for the good of souls — yet the disciples of the Crucified One are far more than outnumbered by the children of this world.
If this is so, shrink not from boldly confessing Christ because you stand almost alone. Be it your fixed purpose, that if those around you will not join you on your way Zionward — you will not stay with them in the City of Destruction. The company you shall meet with at the close, will more than recompense the loneliness of the road. Solitary at times you may be now, but there awaits you at the end of your course, a joyful welcome from the whole family of the redeemed.
2. To overcome the world, is to rise above the allurements which it has to offer.
A good lesson may be gathered from a fable of olden time. It is said that a king had a daughter who was very swift of foot. So confident was he of her speed in the race, that he engaged, if any could outrun her, he would take the kingdom of which she was the rightful heiress. The attempt was made by many, but in vain. At length came forward one who, by deceit, endeavored to succeed. In his hand he carried three golden balls, and when she was gaining ground upon him, he purposely let fall one of them near her. Staying for a moment to pick up the treasure, she lost the position she had gained. Thrice, at intervals, did he repeat the artifice, and with the same result. She had imagined that without difficulty she could regain lost ground, but it was beyond her power. Her adversary won the race, and took her crown.
Well may these golden balls represent to us, but the honors, the gains, the vanities, and pleasures by which many are drawn aside, and, through the craft of their wily foe, lose their kingdom and their crown!
A word of counsel may here be given with reference to the pursuit of lawful objects. It is both natural and right that men should endeavor to succeed in whatever they undertake. To rise in life, to lay up for ourselves or our families, is not unlawful; in fact, life would lose half its interest were not such aims permitted to us — but the chief point is ever to keep them in their right place. Let them be secondary, and not the main object of our ambition. We have need to follow such directions as Christ laid down for our guidance in the Sermon on the Mount.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21. That is, let the securing of earthly treasures be subservient to the obtaining of treasures in Heaven. Let your heart be on the latter and not on the former.
Again. "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
Parallel to this again is the lesson taught in the parable of the unjust steward. No commendation is given to his injustice, but to his wisdom. "The lord commended the unjust steward because he had done wisely." He used the present, that he might secure the future. Thus we find the teaching summed up: "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings!" Luke 16:9. That is, so employ your wealth, which too often by others has been gained or spent in the service of sin — that when your stewardship is over, you may be rich toward God; and He, your everlasting Friend, shall welcome you to His kingdom. (Luke 16.8, 9.)
To assist in estimating the true value of these things, so much coveted by man, lay to heart the instability which is stamped upon worldly riches.
After a stormy night, there lay beneath a high tree a branch which had been broken off by the force of the wind. Upon it was a rook's nest, and within the nest were the little ones cold and dead. It was found that the nest had been built upon a rotten bough, which consequently could not resist the violence of the wind.
Just so, all supreme affection for earthly things, all reliance upon them — is building the nest upon a rotten bough. By and by some fierce blast will rend it, and the hope fixed there will perish in a moment. One Branch alone is there upon which we may securely build — the Branch of Righteousness, Jesus Christ, who abides evermore.
A word here is also needful with reference to doubtful amusements.
To speak of them is to tread upon delicate ground, but the Word of God gives the clue by which we are to be guided. It lays down certain principles which an enlightened conscience, and a heart touched with love to Christ, will not misinterpret. In many of these amusements there is nothing upon which we can lay our finger, and say, "This is forbidden" — but our great enemy knows full well that it is not in things positively unlawful, but in such as are doubtful, that he can gain most advantage.
Judge whether the atmosphere of the theater, the race-course, the ballroom, and such-like scenes are not very harmful to the life of God in the soul. When near the Tropics you must be influenced by the heat — and when near the Poles you must be sensible of the chilling cold.
Take another illustration. The ears of corn near the beaten path, are very likely to be trodden down, or plucked by those who pass by — while the wheat at a distance from it is safe. With our evil hearts it is well not to go to the brink of temptation, but to keep as far away as possible. "He who loves danger, shall perish in danger."
Judge of your duty in this matter, not by the opinion of those around you, but by a calm prayerful consideration of the mind of the Spirit in such passages as the following,
"The world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." (John 17:14-16)
"Do not be conformed to this world." (Romans 12:2)
"Do not love the world, neither the things that are in the world." (1 John 2:15)
"Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world, becomes an enemy of God." (James 4:4)
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (1 John 2:15)
Study also Luke 8.14; 9.23; Philippians 3.13, 14, 20, 21; Colossians 3.1,2; 1 Timothy 5.6; Titus 2.12-14; James 4.4; 1 Peter 4.7; 2 Peter 3.11, 12.
There is a way of turning aside the point of the plainest Scripture commands, by giving to them another meaning — but to most of those who desire in all things to follow Christ, the passages above quoted will afford no doubtful guidance.
Doubt not that our Father delights in the happiness of His children, and that He will not deny whatever really conduces to it.
Christ sat down at the marriage feast, and His mother and His disciples were with Him. This fact may give one plain rule: Wherever we can ask the Master to accompany us — there we are safe. Wherever His presence is shut out, is not, except in rare cases, the place for one of His people.
Both with respect to our aiming at earth's treasures, and partaking of the pleasures which it offers, we have an excellent example in the spirit of Moses. His choice was a wise one. Before him the prospect was as attractive as could well be imagined. Within his grasp was the best that Egypt could offer. Wealth, rank, and all they could purchase, were his own. Yet he refused them. He trampled them beneath his feet.
Under other circumstances, much he might have retained and consecrated to the service of God — but when it came into competition with a better portion, he cheerfully forsook all. "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible." Hebrews 11:24-27
3. If we would overcome the world, we must not be wholly engrossed by the daily routine of duty.
That we ought most diligently to attend to the claims of a lawful calling, none can doubt; but it is the spirit in which we do so, that marks whether the world is our servant or our master.
The laborer with his hand on the plough may cherish within, bright thoughts of the Paradise above. The merchant, through the day mingling in the busy throng, may yet find a vacant place within for the hallowed presence of Christ. The mother, with the cares and worries that belong to a family, may turn in her heart again and again to the Great Burden-bearer, and be lightened of her heavy load.
Take two men engaged in the same pursuit, fairly matched in the work to be done, and the concerns belonging to it, and not seldom will you find the greatest possible difference between them. Look within: read the heart of each, and what it says.
The inner thought of one is, "Business, money labor, duty — you are my God! For you I live, I toil, I strive day by day."
The heart of the other speaks far otherwise, "Oh, my Savior, keep me near You by Your grace! In life's conflict be ever at my right hand! In all my labors may I glorify You! If riches increase, teach me rightly to use them! May I so pass through things temporal, that finally I lose not the things eternal!"
4. To overcome the world, we must patiently and meekly bear the cross that may be laid upon us.
No Christian is without a cross — and it is often a heavy one.
In days gone by, His followers have found it no easy matter to endure the shame and persecution that have come upon them for His sake. Driven into exile or burned at the stake, exposed to wild beasts or cast into the sea — have His faithful martyrs suffered the loss of all things, even life itself, rather than deny Him they loved. Nor is this trial passed. "All who will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution." Especially at the outset of a Christian life, is this cross felt. Old associates turn away, unkind remarks are made, petty annoyances are placed in the path. In many positions it is a life-long struggle to make a good confession before the ungodly.
It may be the cross of . . .
a lengthened affliction,
the painful weariness of a sick chamber,
or the desolation of a bereaved heart.
In a village not far from Cambridge a Christian woman lay under the chastening rod of God. A strange complication of disease daily wore out her strength. A fever had first laid her low, a spinal disease followed; she then lost her sight, and her heart became affected; to this was added cancer in the throat; and yet beneath it all she murmured not. In her lowly cottage with barely the necessities of life, for more than twenty long years Sarah Carter cheerfully bore her cross. The new song of praise to the Lamb was ever upon her lips — never was she weary of extolling, in the hearing of saints and of sinners, the Name of her adorable Redeemer.
This was to overcome the world.
5. To overcome the world, we must not be guided by the maxims which the world follows.
Profession of religion abounds — few but wish, in some sense, to be reckoned good Christians. Yet what is the rule of life by which men are guided? With the utmost stretch of charity, can we believe that they are led by the precepts of Christ? Is it not painfully evident, that the principles which actuate them are not those of Holy Scripture? Are not such maxims as the following, the mainspring of daily conduct, even in a large proportion of those who are found each Sunday within the walls of a Christian sanctuary?
"A little religion is all very well."
"The world for health — serious things for days of sickness."
"Business first — Christ afterwards."
"It is impossible to be honest in trade."
"If I am not worse than others — why should I fear?"
"Obey God when it is convenient — when it is not, please yourself."
I do not mean that men always utter such words with their lips, but are they not the rule by which they live?
Yet go to the faithful Word. What are the maxims which are there laid down? Are they not as far removed from these, as the east is from the west? Find a man who has been born of the Spirit, and is daily taught out of the Sacred Oracles — and what are the principles which he now strives to follow?
"Religion is everything — or nothing."
"There is no little sin."
"I must obey God — though I die for it."
"A little with Christ, is better than all the world without Him."
To follow out such principles in daily practice, is victory over the world. In your own home, in your place of business, in society, in the street, and in the market-place — to carry them out to their legitimate conclusions, is to prove yourself a Christian in more than the name.
As the converted Hindu would regard the idol which once he worshiped, but now has broken in pieces, or cast down beneath his feet — so look upon this present world. Yes, as more than once a man has brought the idol of stone, and made it one of the steps into the house of the living God — so use that which once may have been your idol, that by it you may advance the kingdom, and honor the Name of the Most High. Employ your wealth, and standing, and influence, for His glory and the good of His Church.
Is it easy so to act through life? Far from it. It requires effort, and watchfulness, and prayer. Those who imagine there to be no difficulty, have never yet made the attempt.
Is it possible so to act? Surely it is. In a great measure may each Christian be victorious in this conflict. God puts a weapon into our hands, so mighty that we need never despair, "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith! Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5.4,5.)
Why is this? Why does faith, instead of any other grace, bear away the palm of victory.?
6. To overcome the world, we must engage the power of Christ by faith.
Man is weak and strengthless to meet a single temptation. "Without me," Christ declares, "you can do nothing." But the strong Redeemer is pledged to put forth His mighty power to support those who rely upon Him. Faith does this. It has been beautifully defined to be "the Holy Spirit moving the soul to lean on Jesus!" Hence comes it that the believer can rise above all the opposing influences around.
"You are of God, little children, and have overcome them (That is, false teachers), because greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world."
Faith triumphs, because it brings love.
"Faith works by love." Nothing is stronger than the power of love. For seven long years, twice over, did Jacob toil and labor, night and day, and yet they seemed to him but a few days, for the love he bare to Rachel. Not a little did Jonathan bear of his father's displeasure, because, out of love to David, he took his part and pleaded his cause. What toil and hardship will a mother endure, out of love to her child — what comforts, pleasures, even necessities, will she forego, that she may attend upon a sick babe. All night long have I seen a mother, on board a steamer, watch by her little one; weary and tired herself — yet she would not leave its side, but remained there, that she might anticipate its every need.
The love of Christ, shed abroad within the heart by the Spirit, is in the same way, a powerful instrument to enable us either for toil, or the endurance of hardship, or of reproach in the world. Few ever labored so unceasingly, or more patiently endured all trials and crosses that were appointed to him, than the Apostle of the Gentiles, and his one motive was love: "The love of Christ constrains us," was the secret of his marvelous life.
And love is ever the child of true faith. Everyone that believes in Christ, must love Him. "Unto you who believe, He is precious." The more also faith increases, the more also will love.
Faith triumphs, because it brings with it a present joy.
Faith brings joy. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing." Who can believe in a free and perfect forgiveness, in a Father's wise and tender care, in His exceeding readiness to hear our prayers — but it must in some measure bring a ray of gladness into the soul?
Joy brings strength. "The joy of the Lord is your strength." This joy outshines earthly pleasures, and counterbalances all earthly sorrows. "Sorrowful — yet always rejoicing" may sound as a paradox; but to those strong in faith, it has often been a reality.
Here is a lesson worth pondering. The joy of faith triumphs over the world.
He who has just tasted of the grapes of Eschol — will have no desire for the apples of Sodom. He who has slaked his thirst from the waters of the River of Life — will not stoop to drink of the earth's polluted streams.
"Why do you now abstain from what once was your delight?" was asked of a man. "I have found something better — I have found Jesus," was the reply.
The more we can find satisfaction and rest in Christ, as the chief Portion of our souls — the more completely shall we be able to cast off the spirit of the world, that as yet may cleave to us. There are trees which retain many of their old leaves — until new ones are put forth. There are feelings and habits which can never be displaced, until better feelings and habits arise.
The comfort of the Spirit, the love of Christ, the peace which passes understanding — these form the surest antidote to the enticements, and the best support against the tribulations, of an evil world.
Faith also triumphs, because it is the telescope by which invisible things are brought to sight, and distant things are brought near!
Why is it that men are so thoroughly wrapped up in the worldly things that surround them? Is it not because to them a future state has no real existence? They rise in the morning and rest at night, they rejoice in prosperity and grieve under trial they pass day after day, month after month, year after year — without the least realization that, compared to that which shall yet be manifested, the things of the day are but as a passing shadow.
But take the telescope. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for — the evidence of things not seen." Believe in the promises of Christ, with reference to a world yet to come. Behold, in sure expectation, the land that is far off, the mansions in the Father's house, the glory of the everlasting city.
The present scene then will lose much of its power. A new spring of action will be felt.
Take an illustration from the life of Christopher Columbus. A firm persuasion took possession of his mind, that beyond the wide Atlantic might be discovered a rich and beautiful land. To many, the grounds for this confidence seemed very slight, but to him they were sufficient. No doubt existed in his breast; and in this faith, he rose above obstacles, which were well near insuperable.
For more than twenty years he endured all manner of hardships, rather than forego the purpose he had formed, of going forth as a discoverer. From court to court, from country to country, from town to town, he journeyed, mostly on foot, to secure friends for his great enterprise.
At length, with a ship little fitted for such a voyage, he set forth with a few companions. For weeks and months he persevered, in spite of his own fears, in spite of the reproaches of his crew who now regarded him as leading them on to certain destruction. He remained steadfast, and faith conquered. The distant shore was gained. Ever since, Columbus has been honored as one of the great heroes of mankind.
Let us take home the lesson. Let us follow in his footsteps. There is a country far better than that discovered by Columbus. It is a land where the ills of this life cannot come. It is revealed to us on no doubtful authority. We believe in its existence, not because of any chance reports, or guesses and surmisings of our own — but on the testimony of Him who cannot lie.
In our path, however, lie many and great perils. There rolls many a wave between us and the desired haven. But why shall we fear?
When the shore is won at last,
Who will count the billows past!
Let us exercise faith.
Let us pray for its increase.
Let us hope to the end.
Let us lean on the promise.
Then danger shall not dismay, nor fears overwhelm us.
The rest shall be gained, and to God shall be all the glory. The first act of Columbus was to take possession of the land, in the name of the Lord — so also shall we. To His merciful guidance and mighty protection shall we ascribe all the praise.
"Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Your Name give glory, for Your mercy and Your truth's sake."