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WORSE THAN THE FIRST
For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the last state is become worse with them than the first. For it were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn lack from the holy commandment delivered unto them.
“The last state is become worse with them than the first.” [Verse 20] Apostasy is worse than ignorance! It were better for us never to have come within sight of the Kingdom, and to have remained in ignorance of its privileges and glory, than, having entered the gate, to become rebels to its sovereignty, and to turn our backs upon its contemplated ministries of grace. To approach the Divine is an unspeakable favour; it is also an appalling responsibility. Light that is trifled with becomes lightning; the splendour of the great white throne becomes a “consuming fire.” To have known, and then to rebel, translates our very knowledge into a minister of destruction. The abuse of the highest degrades us 297beneath the lowest. “The first shall be last.” “The last is become worse with them than the first.” “Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.” Here, in the apostle’s words, we have depicted for us the rise and fall of a soul. There is the realisation of moral deliverance: “they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” [Verse 20] There is the subsequent moral relapse: “they are again entangled therein and overcome.” And there is the consequent deterioration in the moral and spiritual capital of the life: “the last state is become worse with them than the first.”
The realisation of moral deliverance. “They have escaped the defilements of the world.” What is this “defilement” of the world in which these souls have been imprisoned? Who can define it? “Who can lay hold of this subtle and varying corruption, and give it an interpretative name? Its metamorphoses are extraordinary. It has a hundred different guises, changing its attire continually, but amid all its shifting appearances it remains essentially the same. You have the same essential elements in solid ice, in flowing water, in hissing steam, in wreathing vapour, in moving cloud. In all the multiplex forms you have the same essence: the reality abides; it is only a change of attire. 298You can have the same poison in varying preparations, mingling with different compounds, appearing in diverse colours, and confined within dissimilar flasks. The incidentals are many, the poisonous essence is one and the same. And so it is with this “corruption” of the world; it pervades different sets of circumstances; it enshrines itself in different compositions, but everywhere and anywhere it is the same destructive minister. It is the same in Whitechapel and Belgravia, in the House of Commons and on a racecourse, in the King’s palace and the peasant’s hut, in the Church and on the Exchange. You may have “the defilements of the world” palpable and gross, and you may have them tenuous and refined. They may be rank and offensive as “the lust of the flesh”; they may be rare and vain and elusive as “the pride of life.” Yes, many forms, but one spirit! “The fashion of this world passeth away.” The “fashion” changes; the thing itself abides.
“The defilements of the world.” Every age seems to have its own characteristic corruption, its own destructive, worldly form and colour. When St. Anthony went out into the Egyptian desert as a protest and safeguard against the corruption of his time, it was a different form of worldliness to that which encountered St. Benedict in a succeeding century, and which 299drove him to found his great Monastic Order; and the worldliness against which St. Benedict contended differed from the corruption which surrounded St. Francis when, at a later day, he established the Order of the Mendicant Friars. All these forms of monasticism fought the same essential corruption, but it appeared here in the shape of a decaying individualism, and there in the shape of social and political dissolution, and yonder in the shape of a proud and luxurious Church. “The fashion of this world passeth away.” How different is the worldliness which forced the Salvation Army into existence from the worldliness which prevailed at the time of the evangelical revival! John Wesley and General Booth looked out upon quite different conditions, but the difference was only in the shape of the flask and the colour of the compound; the essential adversary was the same. The corruption of our own day wears a different guise from the corruption of twenty-five years ago. It has transferred itself to other spheres, and has pervaded new sets of relationships, and you have to look for it in new attire. The fashion changes; the pollution abides! Behind all the shiftings of the centuries the defilement persists, and it manifests itself in a mode of thinking, a mode of working, and a mode of living which is essentially anti-Christian. It 300is the anti-Christian drift in the life of a generation which constitutes its pollution, and such drift may be found with equal certainty in Mayfair and the Seven Dials. It is a subtle spirit, now enshrining itself in an individual, now in a society, now in a Parliament, now in literature, now in art, now in the acquisition of treasure, now in the apportioning of leisure, in a hundred different vestures, but remaining always the anti-Christian drift, and ever degrading its victims into Christian negations.
Now this “defilement of the world” is an infection, and propagates itself like a foul contagion. It is a significant and suggestive thing that the word which our version translates by “defilements” is our English word “miasma.” It is the suggestion of the process by which the corruption works. “The miasma of the world!” And what is a miasma? Medical science has a synonym for the word which gives us much enlightenment. “Aerial poison!” A miasma is an aerial poison, an emanation or effluvia rising from the ground and floating in the air. “The miasma of the world.” It is pervasive as an aerial poison, it distributes itself like a destructive contagion. Let an unclean miasma, some foul immorality, infest one lad in a public school, and the school will seek its 301own security by his immediate expulsion. One polluted lad can infect a thousand. “The miasma of the world.” We know the workings of the principle in social clubs. It is amazing how soon the miasma can pollute a society. It has happened before: now that one man has degraded a social fellowship, and has created a malaria which pure men have refused to breathe. What has happened in smaller communities has also prevailed in civic fellowships and in the larger life of the State. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” Sometimes we can withdraw ourselves from an evil contagion, and our withdrawal may tend to destroy it by neglect. But we cannot altogether get away from “the miasma of the world.” We are in the world, and the air is infected, and we have got to breathe it. How then?
There is a way of escape. “They have escaped the miasma of the world.” We can be rendered immune, as medical science can make us immune in the presence of some particular contagion. “I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world,” but that Thou shouldest make them immune—“that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” Regard it or disregard it as we may, this is the claim of the real Christian science, the promise of the Gospel of Christ: “If they drink any deadly 302thing it shall not hurt them.” It is possible for a man to move amid the prevailing miasma of his day, to live and move and have his being in its very presence, and yet to remain in robust moral health. Now, mark you, this moral deliverance is attained through a spiritual fellowship. “They have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” [ Verse 20] An escape from the miasma by the “knowledge” of a Person! But that word “knowledge” implies infinitely more than mental conception. It is the “knowledge” which implies acquaintance, intimacy, communion, community. I should not be doing violence to the meaning of my text if I were to read it in this wise: “They have escaped the miasma of the world through the partnership of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” It is a “knowledge” which implies a league, a covenant, a “partaking of the Divine nature”; and through this marvellous union there flows into human-kind a river of regenerating energy, reinforcing our miserable weakness, and endowing us with all the resistances of invincible health. Our Lord makes us immune to the miasma of the world by communicating to us His own victorious virtue, and by making us sublimely positive to all the assaults and negations of the devil. “He restoreth my soul.” 303“Thou shalt not be afraid of the pestilence that walketh in darkness.” “I will fear no ill.” Such is the way of escape.
But now the apostle unfolds a dark sequence. The moral deliverance may be followed by a moral relapse. “They are again entangled therein and overcome.” [Verse 20] Need I say that this immoral alliance is occasioned by the breaking of the spiritual alliance? Our spiritual attachment endows us with a powerful antidote and antagonism to the miasma of the world. Relax the attachment and you weaken the antidote. Sever your spiritual communion and you impoverish your moral defence. It is a sequence which is illustrated every day in multitudes of lives. Maintain your alliance with the Lord, and you are secure in a health which keeps your enemy at the gate. Let your alliance become loose, and your moral repulsion grows faint. I offer no argument to prove it; the proof is found in common experience. “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present evil world.” Yes, but before Demas had forsaken Paul, he had broken with the Lord, and then he swung back in mighty drift towards the world. When he had wilfully rejected the help of the heavenly energy, he succumbed to the gravitation of the world. He was no longer immune, and the miasma subdued him in the 304common defilement. How suggestive are the words in which the apostle describes the relapse: “They are again entangled.” [Verse 20] They begin to move towards the world, and presently they become involved. It is a figure of this kind: they go too near the destructive machinery; they go in a prying curiosity, and they are caught by a sleeve, and are undone! “They are again entangled.” Ah, it is by our loosenesses that we are caught and involved! When we leave our Lord our thought becomes loose, we exercise too much freedom of thinking; and some loose end becomes entangled, and we are “overcome.” When we leave our Lord our speech becomes loose; we say what we like and not what we ought; and some loose phrase gets entangled and we are “overcome.” When we leave our Lord our affections become loose; deserting the great Lover we flirt with the world: “I will go after my lovers.” We become “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God,” and we are speedily involved and undone. Immediately we begin to weaken our alliance with the Lord we begin to re-establish our communion with the world. The re-establishment of the immoral alliance may begin in apparently trifling flirtations, but it speedily issues in a dark enslavement. When you wish to moor a big boat to a pier, you first throw 305across the intervening gulf a light line. Gulliver’s bondage in Lilliput began in the binding down of a single hair! And our light flirtations with the defiled world, the yielding of a hair here and a hair there to its playful caress, will lead to an eventual entanglement which will make the soul the bond-slave of pollution. To trifle with the world is to play with the plague. “They are again entangled and overcome.”
And what is the moral status of the back slider? “The last state is become worse with them than the first.” [Verse 20] Here is a man who has had intimacy with the Lord. By the strength of the holy partnership he has been kept inviolate, and “no plague has come nigh his dwelling.” He dissolves the partnership; he opens up a lost communion; he turns like “a dog to his vomit,” and “a sow to the mire,” and the appalling issue is this, that “it were better had he never known the way of righteousness,” and the last state of the man is worse than the first! How is he worse? In spiritual apprehension. His sense of God is tremendously abused, and he has not the same receptive organ to the Divine that he had when first he sought the Lord. He has not the same appreciation of grace, the same craving for forgiveness, the same hunger for holiness, the same longing for home! How is he worse? In moral discrimination. 306His moral palate is not as sensitive as when lie first surrendered his life to the King. His mouth is harder! He can swallow iniquity neat. How is he worse? In the poverty of his emotional force. The fundamental energies of the life are sluggish or dead, the love-force, the hope-force, the faith-force, the ultimate momenta which constitute the wealth and dignity of man. How is he worse? Because he does not know he is worse! “Thou sayest I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked!” “The last state of that man is worse than the first.”
Can such a man be recovered? Oh yes! Backsliders may be converted and recovered. “He is able to save unto the uttermost!” “I will recover thee of thy backsliding.” “All things are possible to him that believeth.”
Though earth and hell the word gainsay,
The word of God can never fail:
The Lamb shall take my sins away,
’Tis certain, though impossible:
The thing impossible shall be,
All things are possible to me.
All things are possible to God,
To Christ, the power of God in man,
To men, when I am all renewed,
When I in Christ am formed again,
And when, from all sin set free,
All things are possible to me.
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