The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God remains forever.
I. THE APOSTOLIC PROHIBITION. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world."
1. The world is not the material universe. This is a creation of God, and it vividly illustrates some of his infinite perfections. "The heavens declare the glory of God," etc. (Psalm 19:1-6). The light is the garment in which he robes himself (Psalm 104:2). The fertility of the earth is an illustration of his bounty and beneficence. A divinely inspired poet, having surveyed the creations of God, exclaimed, "O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches." We read, "The Lord shall rejoice in his works." There is in nature endless significance for our instruction, much that is vast and sublime to awe us, much that is beautiful to delight us, much that is bountiful to supply our needs, and much to lead our thoughts to God. There is a sense in which we may love this beautiful creation, and with all the more of warmth because our Father made it and sustains it!
2. The world is not the world of men as such, or mankind. It is not the world of John 3:16, "God so loved the world," etc. With the love of benevolence and pity God loved the world of sinful men. And we should cherish feelings of kindness and pity for those who do not yet know Jesus Christ - should love them as God loved the world.
3. The world here is the world of sinners as distinguished from those that are true Christians, or, as Ebrard expresses it, "unchristian humanity." By "the world" St. John does not mean the material, but the moral world, the heathen world. In his view, as Dr. Culross says, "the world is in sin. Its sinful condition is variously represented. It is in darkness; it knows not God; it finds his commandments grievous; it lies in wickedness; it is in death - not merely exposed to it as a penalty, but in it as a condition. The 'things' of it are such as these - 'the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.'... The 'world' of John's day we know, as to its actual condition, from other sources. Let any one turn over the pages of Tacitus, Juvenal, Martial, or Persius, with their often-unconscious disclosures of prevailing licentiousness and cruelty; and what he learns will put 'colour' into John's outlines. The same world - at heart - we still find in the present century, under modern conditions. It has grown in wealth. It has become civilized and refined. Law has become a mightier thing. The glory of science was never half so bright. But, looking close in, we still find the old facts - a dislike of God and love of sin, pride and self-sufficiency, a godless and selfish use of things, men 'hating one another,' selfishness fighting selfishness, an infinite mass of misery." "Neither the things that are in the world,... the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vain-glory of life." By "the lust of the flesh "we understand the inordinate desire for sensual indulgences, the longing for the gratification of the carnal appetites. How prevalent is this lust! We see it in the epicure, in the wine-bibber, and in others in still coarser and more degrading forms. It is most terrible in its effects upon the soul. "The lust of the eyes," interpreted by the aid of other Scriptures, seems to mean the eager desire of possession directed towards temporal and material goods, or covetousness. It is not the desire to look upon pleasing, or beautiful, or sublime things, which is here condemned, but the sinful look of avarice. In confirmation of this view, see Proverbs 23:5; Proverbs 27:20; Ecclesiastes 4:8; Ecclesiastes 5:10; Luke 14:18, 19. Probably there is also a reference to the feeling of hatred and the desire of revenge, as indicated in Psalm 17:11; Psalm 54:7; Psalm 91:8; Psalm 92:11. "The vain-glory of life" is "the lust of shining and making a boasting display." It points to that which is so prevalent in our day - the desire for grand houses, and costly furniture, and fine horses and carriages, and rich and fashionable dresses; the effort to give luxurious parties and splendid entertainments, and to outshine our neighbours in our mode of life. These things are of the world, worldly; and- these things Christians are exhorted not to love.
II. THE REASON OF THIS PROHIBITION. The reason, is twofold.
1. Because the love of the world excludes the love of God. "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Man cannot love the holy Father and the unchristian world. These two affections cannot coexist in one heart. Either of them, by its very nature, excludes the other. And "the things that are in the world," the love of which is prohibited, are "not of the Father, but of the world." They do not proceed from him; they are utterly opposed to his character and will; and, therefore, affection to them cannot dwell in the heart that loves him. Sensuality and covetousness and vain-glory are irreconcilably opposed to love to God.
2. Because the world and worldly things are transient. "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof." "The world" is still the unchristian world. It has in it no elements of permanence. The darkness of moral error and sin must recede before the onward march of the light of truth and holiness. The principles and words which oppose the Church of God are transient; they are passing away. Shall we set our hearts upon such fleeting things? And the lusts of the world are evanescent also. The gratifications of the flesh and. of the senses quickly cease. The things which many so eagerly desire and pursue, the pleasures and riches, the honours and vain shows of this world, are passing away like dreams of the night. And even the appetite for some of these things fails. The time comes when the desire for sensual gratifications ceases. Indulgence in the pleasures of the world tends to destroy the capacity for enjoying them. When that time comes, the man of the world, sated, wearied, disappointed, regards these things bitterly and cynically, finding that he has wasted heart and life upon them. Therefore let us not love them. But, on the other hand, "he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." The doing of his will is the evidence and expression of our love to him. Here, as so frequently in the writings of St. John, we see the importance of action. It is not love in profession that is blessed, but love in practice. "If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments." It is not the creed that is commended, but the conduct. He who thus acts out his love to God abides for ever. He is connected with a stable order of things. He is vitally related to God himself, and is an heir of immortal and blessed life. He is now a participator in the life of Christ; and to all his disciples he gives the great assurance, "Because I live, ye shall live also." By all these considerations let us not love the unchristian, unsatisfying, and perishing world; but through our Lord Jesus Christ, let us seek to love the Father with an ever-growing affection. - W.J.
The world passeth away, and the lust thereof
I. THE RIVER OR THE SAD TRUTH OF SENSE. "The world" is in the act of "passing away." Like the slow travelling of the scenes of some movable panorama which glide along, even as the eye looks upon them, and are concealed behind the side flats before the gazer has taken in the whole picture, so constantly, silently, and therefore unnoticed by us, all is in a state of continual motion. There is no present, but all is movement. But besides this transiency external to us, John finds a corresponding analogous transiency within us. "The world passeth, and the lust thereof." Of course the word "lust" is employed by him in a much wider sense than in our use of it. With us it means one specific and very ugly form of earthly desire. With him it includes the whole genus — all desires of every sort, more or less noble or ignoble, which have this for their characteristic, that they are directed to, stimulated by, and fed or disappointed on, the fleeting things of this outward life. If thus a man has anchored himself to that which has no perpetual stay, so long as the cable holds he follows the fate of the thing to which he has pinned himself, and if it perish he perishes, in a very profound sense, with it. But these fleeting desires, of which my text speaks, point to that sad feature of human experience, that we all outgrow and leave behind us, and think of very little value, the things that once to us were all but heaven. The self-conscious same man abides, and yet how different the same man is! Our lives, then, will zig-zag instead of keeping a straight course if we let desires that are limited by anything that we can see guide and regulate us. The march of these fleeting things is like that of cavalry with their horses' feet wrapped in straw in the night, across the snow, silent and unnoticed. We cannot realise the revolution of the earth because everything partakes in it. We talk about standing still, and we are whirling through space with inconceivable rapidity. By a like illusion we deceive ourselves with the notion of stability when everything about us is hastening away. Some of you do not like to be reminded of it, and think it a killjoy. Now, surely common sense says to all that if there be some fact certain and plain and applying to you, which, if accepted, would profoundly modify your life, you ought to take it into account. Suppose a man that lived in a land habitually shaken by earthquakes were to say, "I mean to ignore the fact, and I am going to build a house just as if there was not such a thing as an earthquake expected," he would have it toppling about his ears very soon. And suppose a man says, "I am not going to take the fleetingness of the things of earth into account at all, but am going to live as if all things were to remain as they are," what would become of him do you think? Is he a wise man or a fool? And is he you? When they build a new house in Rome they have to dig down through sometimes sixty or a hundred feet of rubbish that runs like water, the ruins of old temples and palaces once occupied by men in the same flush of life in which we are now. We, too, have to dig down through ruins, until we get to rock and build there, and build secure. Withdraw your affections and thoughts and desires from the fleeting, and fix them on the permanent. If a captain takes anything but the pole star for his fixed point he will lose his reckoning, and his ship will be on the reefs. If we take anything but God for our supreme delight and desire we shall perish. There was an old rabbi long ago whose own real name was all but lost because everybody nicknamed him "Rabbi This-also." The reason was because he had perpetually on his lips the saying about everything as it came, "This also will pass." He was a wise man. Let us go to his school and learn his wisdom.
II. THE ROCK, OR THE GLAD TRUTH OF FAITH. We might have expected that John's antithesis to "the world that passeth" would have been "the God that abides." But he does not so word his sentence, although the thought of the Divine permanence underlies it. Rather over against the fleeting world he puts the abiding man who does the will of God. There is only one permanent reality in the universe, and that is God. All else is shadow. The will of God is the permanent element in all changeful material things, and consequently he who does the will of God links himself with the Divine eternity, and becomes partaker of that blessed Being which lives above mutation. What will you do when you are dead? You have to go into a world where there are no gossip and no housekeeping, no mills and no offices, no shops, no books, no colleges, and no sciences to learn. "He that doeth the will of God abideth forever." If you have done your housekeeping, and your weaving and spinning, and your bookkeeping, and your buying and selling, and your studying, and your experimenting with a conscious reference to God, it is all right. That has made the act capable of eternity, and there will be no need for that man to change. The material on which he works will change, but the inner substance of his life will be unaffected by the trivial change from earth to heaven. Whilst the endless ages roll he will be doing just what he was doing down here, only here he was playing with counters and yonder he will be trusted with gold and dominion over ten cities.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(S. A. Brooke, M. A.)I. Everything in WORLDLINESS is EVANESCENT.
1. The worldly man's possessions are evanescent. Though he has pyramids of gold they will pass away like a morning cloud.
2. The worldly man's purposes are evanescent. His great schemes are only splendid dreams which pass away in the waking hour.
3. The worldly man's pleasures are evanescent.
4. The worldly man's productions are evanescent. Architecture, painting, commerce, literature, legislation — what are these? A glaring pageant that passeth away.
II. Everything in GODLINESS is ENDURING. "He that doeth the will of God abideth forever." Such a man has received a "kingdom that cannot be moved."
1. His principles are abiding.
2. His possessions are abiding. No moth nor rust can corrupt his treasures. "The Lord is his portion."
3. His prospects are abiding. His hopes are not fixed on objects that are passing away, but on an "inheritance incorruptible," etc.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
But he that doeth the will of God abideth foreverI. THE CHARACTERISTIC OF THE WORLD is that it does not "do the will of God"; it is the sphere or region in which the will of God is not done. As not doing the will of God, the world and its lust must pass away, for it is identical with the darkness which is passing. Passing! But it is passing to where it wilt pass no more, but stay, fixed unchangeably forever. It is not annihilated, it does not cease to be, it only ceases to be passing. Have you ever thought how much of the world's endurableness — I say not its attractiveness but its endurableness — depends on its being a world that passes, and therefore changes? Is there any sensation, any delight, any rapture of worldly joy, however engrossing, that you could bear to have prolonged indefinitely, forever, unaltered, unalterable? But I put the case too favourably. I speak of your finding the world with its lust, not passing but abiding, in the place whither you yourselves pass when you pass hence. True, you find it there. But you find it not as you have it here. There are means and appliances here for quenching by gratification, or mitigating by variety, its impetuous fires. But there you find it where these fires burn, unslaked, unsolaced, the world being all within and the world's lust, and nothing outside but the Holy One. Place yourself with your loved world and its cherished lust where you and it and God are alone together, with nothing of God's providing that you can use or abuse for your relief. Your creature comforts are not there with you. Nothing of this earth, which is the Lord's, is there; nothing of its beauty or its bounty, its grace or loveliness or warm affection; nothing of that very bustle and distraction and change which dissipates reflection and drowns remorse; nothing but your worldly lust, your conscience, and your God. That is hell, the hell to which the world is passing.
II. But now let us turn to A BRIGHTER PICTURE. "He that doeth the will of God abideth forever." Suppose that the world has passed away and the lust thereof. Does it follow that the earth is dissolved or perishes? Nay, it remains. And whatever in it or about it is of God remains. This abode of men is to be assimilated thoroughly to yonder abode of angels in respect of the will of God being alike done in both. That at all events is the heavenly state, let its localities be adjusted as they may. But the precise point of his statement is not adequately brought out unless we connect and identify the future and the present. There may be stages of advancement and varieties of experience, a temporary break, perhaps, in the outer continuity of your thread of life, between the soul's quitting the body to be with Christ where now He is and its receiving the body anew at His coming hither again. But substantially you are now as you are to be always.
(R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
I. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS A LIFE OF DWELLING IN CHRIST. I have said that this is one of John's favourite words. He learnt it from his Master. It was in the upper room where it came from Christ's lips with a pathos which was increased by the shadow of departure that lay over His heart and theirs. "Abide in me, and I in you." No doubt the old apostle had meditated long on the words. "Abide in me and I in you." That is the ideal of the Christian life, a reciprocal mutual dwelling of Christ in us and of us in Christ. These two thoughts are but two sides of the one truth, the interpenetration by faith and love of the believing heart and the beloved Saviour, and the community of spiritual life as between them. The one sets forth more distinctly Christ's gracious activity and wondrous love by which He condescends to enter into the narrow room of our spirits, and to communicate their life and all the blessings that He can bestow. The other sets forth more distinctly our activity, and suggests the blessed thought of a home and a shelter, an inexpugnable fortress and a sure dwelling place, a habitation to which all generations may continually resort. Christ for us is the preface and introduction. I do not want that that great truth should be in any measure obscured, but I do want that, inseparably connected with it in our belief and in our experience, there should be far more than there is, the companion sister thought, Christ in us and we in Christ. I need not remind you how this great thought of mutual indwelling is, through John's writings, extended not only to our relation to Christ, but to our relations to God the Father and God the Spirit. The apostle almost as frequently speaks about our dwelling in God and God's dwelling in us, as he does about our dwelling in Christ and Christ's dwelling in us. Let me say one word about the ways by which this mutual indwelling may be procured and maintained. You talk about the doctrine as being mystical. Well, the way to realise it as a fact is plain and unmystical enough to suit anybody. There are two streams of representation in John's writings about this matter. Here is a sample of one of them, "He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood abideth in Me, and I in him." Similarly He says, "If that which ye have heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son and in the Father." And, still more definitely, "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God." So, then, the acceptance by our understandings and by our hearts of the truth concerning Jesus Christ, and the grasping of these truths so closely by faith that they become the nourishment of our spirits, so that we eat His flesh and drink His blood, is the condition of that mutual indwelling. And if that seems to be too far removed from ordinary moralities to satisfy those who will have no mysteries in their religion, and will not have it anything else than a repetition of the plain dictates of conscience, take the other stream of representations, "If we love one another, God abideth in us." "He that abideth in love abideth in God." "If ye keep My commandments ye shall abide in My love." The harm of mysticism is that it is divorced from common pedestrian morality. The mysticism of Christianity enjoins the punctilious discharge of plain duties. "He that keepeth His commandments abideth in Him, and He in him."
II. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE SHOULD BE ONE OF STEADFAST PERSISTENCE. One of the synonyms with which our translators have represented this word of which I am speaking is "continue." You will find that the same double representation which I have spoken of is kept up with regard to other matters belonging to the Christian life. For instance, we sometimes read of "God's word," "Christ's sayings," or "the truth" — as John puts it — "abiding in us"; and as frequently we read of our "abiding in these — the words of God, the teaching of Christ, the truth. In the one ease something is represented as permanently establishing itself in my nature and operating there. In the other case I am represented as holding fast by and perseveringly attending to something which I possess. Ah! I am afraid that there are few things which the average Christian man of this generation more needs than the exhortation to steadfast continuance in the course which he says he has adopted. Most of us have our Christianity by fits and starts. It is spasmodic and interrupted. We grow as the vegetable world grows, in the favourable months only, and there are long intervals in which there is no progress. A Christian life should be one of steadfast, unbroken persistence. Oh! but you say, that is an ideal that nobody can get to." Well, I am not going to quarrel with anybody as to whether such an ideal is possible or not. It seems to me a woful waste of time to be fighting about possible limits when we are so far short of the limits that are known.
III. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE MAY BE ONE OF ABIDING BLESSEDNESS. Our Lord in that same discourse in which he spoke about abiding in us and we in Him, used the word very frequently in a great variety of aspects, and amongst them He said, "These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy may abide in you." And in other places we read about "abiding in the light," or having eternal life abiding in us. And in all these various places of the use of this expression there lies the one thought that it is possible for us to make, here and now, our lives one long series of conscious enjoyment of the highest blessings. And even if there be a circumference of sorrow, joy and peace may be the centre, and not be truly broken by the incursions of calamities. There are springs of fresh water that dart up from the depths of the salt sea and spread themselves over its waves. It is possible in the inmost chamber to be still whilst the storm is raging without. It is our own fault if ever external things have power over us enough to shake our inmost and central blessedness. "As sorrowful yet always rejoicing."
IV. LASTLY, THE CHRISTIAN LIFE WILL TURN OUT TO BE THE ONE PERMANENT LIFE. So say the words which I have taken as a text. "he that doeth the will of God abideth forever." That implies not so much dwelling or persistence or continuousness during our earthly career as, rather, the absolute and unlimited permanence of the obedient life. It will endure when all things else, "the world, and the lust thereof," have slid away into obscurity and have ceased to be. Now of course it is true that Christian men, temples of Christ, are subject to the same law of mutation and decay as all created things are. But still, whilst on the one hand Christian men share in the common lot, and on the other hand non-Christian men endure forever in a very solemn and dreadful sense, the word of my text reveals a great truth. The lives that run parallel with God's will last, and when everything that has been against that will, or negligent of it, is summed up and comes to nought, these lives continue. The life that is in conformity with the will of God lasts in another sense, inasmuch as it persists through all changes, even the supreme change that is wrought by death, in the same direction, and is substantially the same. If we grasp the throne of God we shall be co-eternal with the throne that we grasp. We cannot die, nor our work pass and be utterly abolished as long as He lives. Some trees that, like sturdy Scotch firs, have strong trunks and obstinate branches and unfading foliage, looking as if they would defy any blast or decay, run their roots along the surface, and down they go before the storm. Others, far more slender in appearance, strike theirs deep down, and they stand whatever winds blow. So strike your roots into God and Christ. "He that doeth the will of God abideth forever."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. Take, first, THE GENERAL HISTORY OF THE YEAR, the public deeds that have been done, the national and social movements that have been effected, the sum total of what has been contributed to the world's history, wisdom, and goodness. We need attempt no enumeration of these; it is enough to say of them that all that is merely material and external in them has passed away, only that which is moral abides. There is no moral influence, no moral life in the mere record of an event upon the page of history; it may lie there a dead fact, without a living pulse, without a particle of quickening power. Only so far as moral principles were exercised in it, only so far as it was an example of virtue or a beacon of vice, an illustration of obedience or an instance of sin, has it power to appeal to and quicken us. How, then, shall we estimate the history of the past year? We will brush away its surface of mere phenomena, and look into the world's moral life and try to understand what the year has added to the world's holiness or sin, how far Christian civilisation has been extended and Christian piety increased. Is the world purer and more elevated? It has an additional record of sin, what additional record has it of virtue, obedience, and faith?
II. Take next YOUR OWN INDIVIDUAL HISTORY THROUGH THE YEAR. Now, whatever may have befallen you, whatever sorrows or joys, pains or pleasures, the only permanent result of the year is its sum of moral actions and experiences. Of how little value now apart from it are your toils for the perishing body, your care for the physical wants of your mortal condition, your ploughing the earth, your barter of merchandise, your hoarding of money, your toil as an orator, scholar, or statesman! So far as you have done these things without spiritual feeling and reference, how little they all appear now. And as with our possessions, so with our self-culture, both of mind and of heart. How much of what a man acquires is mere properly, never entering into the essence of his moral life. Suppose that you have been a student during the year, acquiring knowledge of history, science, philosophy, well, how much of what you have acquired is mere knowledge, the mere chattel of the man? How little of it has been incorporated with your moral life! And all that has not shall pass away, save as mere memory. "Whether it be knowledge, it shall fail; whether they be prophecies, they shall cease"; only Divine charity, only that which is inwrought moral feeling, shall abide. Or suppose that you are a religious man, cultivating a religious character, and seeking to "make your calling and election sure." You have read your Bible, you have uttered prayers, you have helped in Christian labour. Well, as mere acts these have all passed away, congregations have broken up, duties have been finished. What, then, remains? Only the moral element that there was in all these things, only the inward religious feeling that prompted them or that they expressed. And it abides in two ways. First, all the moral element and influence of your religious acts produces an effect upon others — upon those who are the objects of your act, and upon others who behold it. Not merely does it relieve poverty or pain — that is only the material form and effect that will perish when pain shall end; but it exhibits a moral principle or feeling, and men are morally moved by it — moved to moral admiration and imitation. And then upon yourself the moral influence of your act is very mighty. Every exercise of virtue or a vice acts inwardly far more powerfully than it acts outwardly; it strengthens and expands your moral principle, it enlarges and deepens your brotherly sympathies.
(H. Allon, D. D.)
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