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THE WORLD WE HAVE RENOUNCED.
ST. JOHN xv. 18, 19.
“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”
PERHAPS there is no word more commonly in our mouths than ‘the world;’ and yet hardly any to which we attach less clear and certain meaning. Indeed, the sense intended by it varies according to the character of the person that uses it. Some people denounce the world as unmixed evil; some say it is for the most part good, or at least innocent; some profess to see its deceitful workings every where; some will see them no where: some make their religion to consist in a separation from the world; some think the field of their religious duty is in the world: in a word, there is little or no agreement or certainty but in this, that there is such a power and reality as the world, and that it is of great 240moment to us to know what it is. Let us therefore endeavour to come at something better than these floating notions about it.
Our Lord here says to the apostles, that the world hated Him, and would hate them; and also, that they were not of the world, because He had chosen and taken them out of it.
Now to this it is sometimes said, that our Lord spoke of the unenlightened world before and at His coming, of the world by which He was rejected and crucified; that since He overcame sin and death, and cast out the prince of this world, it has been won to Himself; that now it is the Christian world. And again, that these words are spoken to the apostles, not to us; to those who had to encounter the world while unconverted, and by their words and sufferings to turn it to God: that they were indeed taken out of it, all unchanged as it was then; but that when the world became Christian, our place was no longer out of it, but in it; and it was no longer opposed to Christ and His servants, but united to them; so that it is fanaticism, or spiritual pride, or a blind and shallow view, to speak of the world we see in the words spoken by our Lord of the world then; and that it savours of some great personal faults, if we set ourselves in opposition to it, and bring ourselves under its censure and dislike. It is said with 241much force, that the ages of polytheism and idolatry, of atheistical philosophy and sophistical schools, of impure and turbulent rites, lascivious and bloody spectacles in the theatres and the circus; of public tyranny, open political corruption, and all that complex spirit of lordly and daring enmity against God, which reigned in and through these things, has been cast out of Christendom; that it has been exorcised, and the unclean presence is gone out of it; that it now sits at Christ’s feet clothed and in its right mind. We are bid to look at the visible Church throughout the world; at the holiness of saints, the devotion of princes, the purity of tribunals, the wisdom of legislatures, the multiplication of Christian states, the stedfast order of nations, their internal peace, the safety of the weak, the consolations of the poor, the reign of right and truth in all dealings of men, the sanctity of homes, and the high perfection of private life; the public honour of religion, the crowds that fill the churches and kneel at the altars of Christ. Can it be said that all this is the antagonist of Christ; that this is the world that hates Him, and out of which He has chosen you? Is not this to speak evil of His own work, and to set yourselves against Him in it? to slight His presence in turning from it, and to commit a kind of schism in separating from it? No one can deny that there is much 242force in this; and many people who desire to walk in the way of perfection are perplexed by it: for after all, it seems strange and unlikely to them that the world which they renounced in their baptism should be the world at Christ’s coming—the world before Constantine—a thing of history. It was a safe vow, which we could never be tempted to break, and no hard thing to renounce that by which we could never be assailed. But this will not satisfy any earnest conscience. We must find, therefore, some better and fuller view; and for this purpose we shall do best to begin at the beginning of this entangled subject.
In its original sense, the world is altogether good. By the work and will of God it is all sinless and pure. “The earth and the world is the Lord’s.”132132 Ps. xxiv. 1. It means no more than the creation of God. It is only in its second intention that the world has an evil sense; but that sense is its prevailing and its true one. The first intention of it is cancelled for awhile, until the day of the restitution of all things.
In the second sense the world is the creation of God as it is possessed by sin and death. So subtil and far-spreading is the original sin of man, that no living soul is without a taint. The living powers of the first man fell under the bias of evil, and the 243same has more or less swayed every one since born into the world. There is no doubt that sin be comes more complex and energetic as time goes on,—that there is in the character of the world a law of deterioration, like that which we see in the character of individuals. The original sin was not a measured quantity, so to speak, of evil, which, like a hereditary disease, might exhaust itself in the course of two or three descents. Every several generation renewed it afresh; every several man reproduced it, and sustained the tradition of evil by example, habit, and license; it was perpetuated in races, in nations, in families; by custom, usage, and law. And what is this great tradition of human thought and will, action and imagination, with all its illusions, misjudgments, indulgences, and abuses of God’s creatures, but the world? We mean by it something external to our minds, and yet not identical with the creation of God; some thing which has thrust itself between it and us; something parasitical, which has fastened upon all God’s works, and has wound itself into its inmost action, and into its very being. For instance, Enoch, as we are told, was born into an idolatrous race: he found himself surrounded by a mighty delusion, which had grown up out of no one mind, or people, or age; it was the accumulated error of centuries, in which man had been forgetting God. 244And this great lie offered itself to him as a truth and a reality. It forced itself upon him with all the presumption of an established and long-admitted doctrine.
So, again, in the case of Abraham, until God called him out from his kindred, who “served other gods beyond the flood;” and so, likewise, with those born in the times of the Judges, and in the times of the last kings of Judah, when the abominations of the Gentiles had filled the inmost chambers of Jerusalem. In all these there was a system of belief and practice, which spread corruption throughout the public and private life of the Jews; and that system was the worship and the kingdom of the God of this world, the great heathen tradition of mankind which had re-entered the precincts of Israel. And what makes this the more striking is, that they were specially God’s elect. Abraham was chosen out of this world, and his children in him. Separation from the world was the very law of their existence as God’s people. The world was, in all truth, external to the family of Abraham. In one sense it may be said that they “were not of the world,” and that God had chosen them “out of the world.” And this continued to be true of them to the very last, through their captivity, and their restoration, down to the time of Christ’s coming. They were strictly an elect people; 245and around them lay the world, out of which they were taken and set apart.
And yet it was specially out of this very people that our Lord chose His apostles. It was of that very people that He said, “If the world hate you, ye know it hated Me before it hated you.” This was not said of Moabites or Idumaeans, but of Israelites. All elect and separate as they were, they were the world still; and they hated Christ, and crucified the Lord of glory. And it was of this election of His apostles from among God’s people Israel that He said, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” Now, what does this mean, but that the world was in the very heart of Jerusalem—in its Priests, in its Levites, in its Scribes, in its Elders, in Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians; in its ecclesiastical order, in its civil state, in its gates, at its altars, in the midst of the temple, in its rulers houses, in its feasts and fasts, in the council and in the sanhedrim, in all houses, in all chambers, in all hearts: that the great world-wide tradition of lust, pride, unbelief, selfishness, will-worship, prejudice, blindness, with all its vanities, pomps, glitter, and lies, was spread like a net over the whole face of the land? They had been born, as Abraham and Enoch, into the 246midst of an age at enmity with God, The world had interwoven itself with the whole framework of national and individual life; and between the presence of God and the conscience of man had hung a film, ever-shifting and many-coloured, which tinged and distorted all things. The great tradition of the fall weighed upon the whole order of life in Galilee and Judea. The revelation of God was darkened by the grossness of their spiritual state. The work of grace which God had wrought by prophets and seers, and all the forerunning tokens and types, which should have prepared them for the Son of God, for His sorrows, and for His spiritual kingdom, were all misread by their eyes of flesh. When they read Moses and the prophets, the world was their expositor. As they lusted, so they believed. Therefore they eat and drank, planted and builded, married and gave in marriage, disputed in their synagogues, went to law with the poor, devoured the houses of widows and the bread of orphans, prayed in public, fasted visibly, gave alms with observation. This was the world out of which Christ elected His apostles,—the state of fleshly indulgence, dull infidelity, confident profession, fatal non-expectation of the day of His coming.
He first broke up the way through, this bond age of death, and called them to follow Him forth into the realities of God’s kingdom. All that they 247were born into they shook from them, and stood afar off, as from a thing under a curse.
The world, then, out of which they were taken, was not the Gentile world, but the disobedience of the visible Church.
We have here a clue which will lead us safely out of this question.
1. First, it is true to distinguish between the Church and the world, as between things antagonist and irreconcilable: for the Son of God, by His incarnation and atonement, and by the calling and mission of His apostles, has founded and built up in the earth a visible kingdom, which has no other Head but Him alone. That visible kingdom is so taken out of the world, that a man must either be in it or out of it; and must, therefore, be either in the Church or in the world. In the visible kingdom of Christ are all the graces and promises of life; in the world are the powers and traditions of death. We know of no revealed salvation out of that visible kingdom; we can point to no other way to life. There is but one Saviour, one Mediator, one Sacrifice for the sin of the world; one baptism for the remission of sins; one rule of faith; one law of holiness. “We are of God,” writes St. John, “and the whole world lieth in wickedness.”133133 1 St. John v. 19. “I have manifested Thy name,” saith our Lord, “unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me; and they have kept Thy word. . . . I pray for them: I pray not for the world, hut for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine. . . . . I have given them Thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”134134 St. John xvii. 6, 9, 14-16, 20, 21. He made His Church so separate and visibly distinct from the world, that it became a broad and enduring witness of His advent, and of His divine mission to mankind. “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word;” that is, for the catholic Church to the world’s end: “that they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me.” It is needless to multiply quotations in a thing so plain. It is certain that, in a very true, deep, and ineffaceable sense, the Church is so taken out of the world as to be absolutely separate from it, and opposed to it. It is so by the gifts of election and regeneration; by the graces of 249righteousness, illumination, and sanctity; by the laws, precepts, counsels of obedience; by the traditions, sacraments, and institutions of God. And this is a separation and distinctness not simply external or relative, as of things ceremonially consecrated; though even so, it would be no less actual; but it is parted from the world as a leavened mass from a mass unleavened—as a field in which seed has been sown, from a field lying fallow; that is, by the unseen presence of Christ, the inward endowments and virtual possession of righteousness and of immortal life. It is, therefore, no less than a covert denial of the great mystery of the regeneration, to confound this separation and opposition between the Church and, the world; and it has been commonly found, that wheresoever faith in the sovereign grace of God to us in our baptism has declined, there the distinction between the Church and the world has been confounded, and finally lost. In this sense, then, they that are of the world are not of the Church, and they that are of the Church are not of the world. There can be no real fellowship or intercourse between those that are of the body of Christ and those that are not. The only intercourse the Church has ever held with the heathen has been either such as St. Paul permitted to the Christians in Corinth, who might still maintain the relations of outward kindliness 250with unbelievers, or direct missions for the conversion of nations to the faith. There could be no closer fellowship; for as the world had its own complex scheme of political, social, and personal life, so had the Church, over and above its positive institutions, a whole moral character, founded on precepts and counsels both of obedience and devotion altogether separate and distinct. The communion of saints could no way blend with the fellowship of the impure. It had no unity with the violent, covetous, and unholy, or of those who believed in nothing unseen. The personal habits of the Christian, aiming at the example of the Son of God, could in no way adjust themselves to the habits of the heathen. And this St. Paul intends in his counsels about the marriage of Christians. There was a moral and formal contrariety between the rules of conduct and aim on both sides, which held the Church and the world apart.
2. But farther, it is no less true to say, that the world, which in the beginning was visibly without the Church, is now invisibly within it. So long as the world was heathen, it warred against the Church in bitter and relentless persecutions. The two great traditions—the one of God, the other of the world, the powers of the regeneration and of the fall—kept their own integrity by contradiction and perpetual conflict. The Church stood alone—a 251kingdom ordained of God, having her own princes and thrones, her own judges and tribunals, her own laws and equity, her own public customs and private economy of life. All these ran clear from a source freshly opened, and in a channel newly sunk to preserve their purity. The streams of the world had not as yet fallen into the river of God: its waters were transparent still. It was when the conversion of individuals drew after it, at last, the whole civil state; when the secular powers, with all their courts, pomps, institutions, laws, judicatures, and the entire political order of the world, came into the precinct of the Church; then it was that the great tradition, as I have said, of human thought, passion, belief, prejudice, and custom, mingled itself with the unwritten usages of the Church. I am far from saying this with the intention of those who declaim against those ages, and sit in judgment on the Church. All this seems to imply a shortsighted and irrelevant habit of mind. Without doubt it was as much the design of God that the Church should possess itself of the empire of the world, as that Israel should possess itself of a fixed habitation in the land of Canaan, and that David’s throne should be set up in Jerusalem. The typical or temporal import of this is no objection. It was the design of Heaven that the Church should overspread mankind, and, like the leaven, 252work mysteriously in the whole world. Neither is it any objection to say, that the Church has thereby lost in purity or devotion, and the like. It is enough that it is doing God’s behests, grappling with the world in its own precincts, and in its seats of power and pride. Whatever be the apparent tide of the struggle, we are sure of this, that the work of God is being wrought by the Church upon the world. When the world seems to prevail, yet even then the elect are being made perfect. And it is equally certain, that the probation of our faith is all the more keen and searching. When Noah was shut into the ark, his faith had a strong trial to endure; but he was shielded from manifold temptations. It was after he had again possessed the earth that he was tempted and fell.135135 Gen. ix. 20, 21. In the beginning the Church had a sorer and a more fiery trial: but who can say that the peril of souls is not greater now? In those days it was no hard matter to discern between the world and the Church. But now our very difficulty is, to know what is that world which we have renounced; to detect its snares, and to overcome its allurements. It is no longer an external adversary, raging, reviling, and wearing out the name of Christ. Now it is within. The world is inside the fold, baptised, catechised, subdued, specious, 253and worshipping. This is a far more dangerous antagonist.
According to the sure promise of Christ, and by the power of His presence, the Church has in a wonderful manner preserved inviolate the whole tradition of the Faith. All that He taught and commanded for the perfection of His elect has been kept spotless in the midst of this evil world. But no one can read the history of Christendom without discerning the same law of decline and deterioration, which has from the beginning obtained among mankind, prevailing, not over the Church as it is a work of the Divine presence, but over the moral, intellectual, social condition of nations professing Christianity. It would be out of place here to give detailed examples; but I may just refer to the corruption of Christian Africa in the time of St. Augustin, and of Eng land under the later Saxon kings, and of the north of Italy in the sixteenth century. It is most certain that there is a power always working in Christian nations, which is not of God, nor of the Church, but of the world, of that corruption which every generation reproduces, and of that aboriginal evil which has been always working in our fallen race, unfolding itself in endless forms, and perpetuating its effects by a most subtil transmission from age to age. To be more particular: 254I will say, that the state of public morals, the habits of personal and social life, popular amusements, and the policy of governments, so far as they are not under the direct guidance of religion, are examples of the presence and power of that which is properly and truly called the world. And nobody need fear to add, that the tone and moral effect of all these, except when they are especially guided by religion to a Christian use and purpose, is almost always, in a greater or less degree, at variance with God. The laws of every Christian state, the customs of every Christian society, and the practice of families and individuals as contained in them, are, indeed, always professedly based upon the laws of God, and limited by the precepts of Christ. It is not, however, the outline but the filling in that determines the character: it is not the letter, but the interpretation that fixes the meaning, and gives emphasis to the sense: so it is with the complex social state of a Christian people. The laws of Christian faith are all there, but so glossed and paraphrased, so interlined by commentaries and lowered by adjustments, that it is no longer the Church warring its way through the world, but the world playing the Christian in a masque. This, then, is the world which in our baptism we renounced. It was no remote or imaginary255notion, but a present and active reality: that very same principle of original evil which, in all ages, under all shapes, in all places, has issued in lust, pride, covetousness, vainglory. It surrounds us in the visible Church now as it surrounded the apostles in the Holy City of old. It cleaves to all things about us. It is in all places of concourse, in all business, in all pleasures, in all assemblies and spectacles, in all homes, in all the circumstances of our personal life. We are not called to separate ourselves from any outward system, as they were, but to be inwardly as estranged from the evil that cleaves to the system around us, as if we were not of it. “I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” Let us, then, lay deeply to heart this great truth, that our only safety is in being inwardly dead to the love and fear of the world. Let us go boldly to all lawful work, even though it be in the midst of it; for in that God will keep us pure. However secular our toil may be, whether in trading, or tilling the ground, or in the administration of law, or in the government and service of Christian states, in all these, when God leads us, He will be our shield, and we shall be kept spotless. Only let us watch against craving, or lusting, or hungering after the honours, gifts, and 256gains of life. The desire of these things, though we be never corrupted by attaining them, will turn all our work to snares, and make our very duties to be perilous. He that loves these things is to be bought, and has his price, and all men know it; and even the world despises while it buys him for its own. Let us be on our guard against that basest of all idolatry, the worship of wealth, or rank, or numbers; and against that most hateful of all intoxication, the love of popular applause, and the admiration of men that shall die. The favour of the world is no sign of the saints. The cross is their portion. The voice of the many is no test of truth, nor warrant of right, nor rule of duty. Truth and right, and a pure conscience, have been ever with the few. “Many are called, but few are chosen.” So it ever has been and shall be. Let us, therefore, pray God for strength to do our work in the world without fear, but to find our rest in Him. Let us not think ourselves safe in a fancied separation from society around us: we cannot escape it any more than the light of day. Nevertheless, let us at least stand aloof from it all we may. Work in the world we needs must; but we need not to feast and revel, to accept its gifts, nor go wondering after its greatness. Let us not take li cense to taste or to possess all its lawful things, for 257” all things are not expedient,” “all things edify not.” The world has too much craft to thrust upon us at first the offer of forbidden things. Soft things and fair, things harmless and with out blame, come first and smooth the way for more subtil allurements. There is but one safe guard for Christ’s servants; to be like Him in whom the prince of this world in the hour of temptation had nothing he could make his own. Our safety is not so much where as what we are.258
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