Christ and the World
Adapted from a Sermon by Horatius Bonar, 1867
“For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?” 2 Cor 6:14
“friendship with the world is enmity with God?” James 4:4
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” 1 John 2:15
Worldly people seem to be well aware that it is only in this life that they will be able to indulge in their worldly pleasures. They are quite clear on the fact that death will put an end to it all; and this is one of the main reasons for their dread of death, and their dislike even of the thoughts of it.
They know that there will be no "worldliness" in "the world to come;" that there will be no moneymaking, nor pleasure-finding, nor feasting, nor revelling; no parties, no sports-events, no theatres, in heaven or in hell. This is why they are so eager to taste "life's happy moments," and to “live life to the full”, to take their fill of laughter and fun, and to make the best of this life while it lasts; and from this flows the origin of their motto, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!" (Is 22:13)
Such are the out-and-out "lovers of pleasure," (2 Titus 3:4) the worshipers of the god of this world, the admirers of vanity, the indulgers of the flesh. They do not profess to be "pious;" but rather take pains to show that they are not so, and boast that they are not hypocrites.
Such are also those who have the form of godliness but who deny its power. (2 Titus 3:5) Who satisfy themselves with the some outward forms of religion while still remaining firmly attached to this world and the pleasures of this world.
But these pleasure won't satisfy forever; and this world will not last forever; and vanity will soon pass away; and the flesh will cease to satisfy. And when all these things come to an end, what will be the condition of those whose gods they were? Cheated, deceived, despairing, all their good things will fall to dust, and they themselves will lie down in never ending sorrow.
Their idols are broken in pieces, and they find at last that they have trusted in a lie, and that now, at the time when they were in most need of support, they have nothing to support them; they are left without a god, without light, without help, without even so much as the hope of a hope, or the faintest glimmer of a dawn, in that long night which, after their merry day of pleasure, has fallen so thickly over them.
And so the fashion of this world passes away; and those who have followed that fashion, and identified themselves with that world, will find too late that, in gaining the world, they have lost their souls; that, in filling up time with vanity, they have filled eternity with misery; that, in grabbing at the pleasures of earth, they have lost the joys of heaven, and the glories of the everlasting inheritance.
Life is indeed brief, and time is swiftly flowing by; generations come and go; graves open and close each day; old and young vanish out of sight; riches depart, and honors fade; autumn follows summer, and winter soon wipes out every trace of leaf and blossom; nothing stands firm, or remains unchanging—but the blue sky and the everlasting hills!
And now, man, dying man, dweller on a dying earth, living among sickbeds and deathbeds, and funerals and graves, surrounded by fallen leaves and faded blossoms, the victim of broken hopes, and fruitless joys, and empty dreams, and fervent longings, and never-healing, never-ending troubles and heartaches—And now, man, dying man, will you still follow vanity and lies; still chase fun and pleasure; still “sow the wind,” and “reap the whirlwind?” (Hos 8:7)
After all that has been told you of earth's weariness, and pleasure's emptiness; after all that you yourself have experienced of the vanity of all things here below; after having been so often disappointed, mocked, and made miserable by that world which you worship; will you still pursue “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life?” (1 Jn 2:16)
You who follow of the world, please consider your ways and ponder your prospects. Look behind you, and see the utter emptiness of the past. Look before you, and make sure of something better and more substantial. Look on the right hand and on the left, and see the weary crowds, seeking rest, and finding none. Look beneath you, to that eternal fire which is being prepared for all who forget God. Look above you, and see that bright heaven, with all its unutterable gladness, which you are so senselessly despising. Think, too, of your brief time on earth, lent to you, in God's special love, to prepare you for the eternal kingdom. And, when you consider these things, rouse yourself from your dream of worldly pleasure, and do not rest until you have decidedly entered at the narrow gate which leads to life.
But these out-and-out lovers of pleasure are, after all, not the most mysterious class, nor the most difficult to deal with—for we know exactly what they are, and what they are seeking; for they do not disguise their worldliness, nor treat it as a thing to be hidden or apologized for.
There is another class of a much more uncertain and indefinite kind—whose object seems to be to get hold of both worlds. They want to infuse as much religion into their life, their doings, their conversation, as will make them to be looked upon as religious men; or at least, save them from the accusation of being worldly men. And they want as much of worldly comfort and pleasure as will satisfy their carnal tastes.
Their life is a compromise; and their goal is to balance between two opposing interests, to adjust the conflicting claims of this world and of the world to come; to please and to serve two masters, to gratify two tastes, to walk in two opposite ways at once, to secure the friendship of the world without losing the friendship of God.
The character as well as the life of these men is halting and weak. They are not decided in their worldliness, and they are not decided in their religion. If they were compelled to choose between their two masters, they would probably choose the world; since their heart is not in their religion, and religion is not in their heart. Religion is tiresome to them; it is a yoke, not a pleasant service. They don't want to part with it, for several good reasons; but they have no delight in it. Their consciences would not allow them to throw it off; but it occupies a very small part of their thoughts and affections. They are, in fact, worldly men varnished over with religion; that is all. They are made up of two parts, a dead and a living; the living part is the world, the dead is religion.
There are many of these in our day, when religion is fashionable. When religion is unfashionable, there are few; when it is scoffed at, still fewer; when it is persecuted, hardly any. But when it is in fashion, they are in great number. They may go under many names—formalists, externalists, half-hearted Christians, half-and-half disciples; they may put on more or less of religion; they may indulge more or less in worldliness; still, the class spoken of is, in all circumstances, substantially the same. They have never broken with sin, nor crucified self, nor taken up the cross. Whatever their lives or their words may be—their heart is not right with God.
Some of these are people who have been brought up in worldliness, and who have, as they grew up, added a little religion to their worldliness, to make it respectable. Others have been religiously brought up from childhood; they have been well taught in the things of Christ; they have had their religious impressions, some deeper, some shallower; and these have remained for a season, so as to mold their character and life to a great extent.
But these feelings have never gone deep enough; they never led to the new birth; they end up in no lasting spiritual life, so that, instead of leading to the transformation of the whole man, inner and outer, they have merely “religionized” the outer man, leaving the inner man un-melted, unbroken, and un-renewed. People who have been moved like this have gone a considerable way—but not the whole way. They have been roused—but not converted. They have passed through a certain religious process—but not experienced the heavenly change, without which they cannot enter the kingdom. They have felt a good deal, read a good deal, prayed a good deal; they have not been without their earnestness and solemnity, perhaps their sighs and tears. They have been moved under sermons; roused by searching books; done many things and taken many steps which seemed to be religious. Yet, after all, there has been no broken-heartedness; no opening of the eye, no breaking off from sin, no surrender of the soul to God, no crucifixion of the old man, no resurrection to newness of life.
After a while, in such cases, a deep and fixed formalism has settled in. Earnestness has faded away, and left nothing but a residue. The soul has become sapless and insensible. The edge of feeling, both of the heart and conscience, has become blunted. The 'routine of religion' is still followed through, and the 'profession' still kept up; but all that is within is dried up and withered; there is no enjoyment of spiritual things; the service of God is a burden; praise and prayer are tiresome; sermons and sacraments are boring; and the poor professor moves on in his heartless course; outwardly still religious—but at heart unspiritual and worldly.
In such a case, with a religion in which he has no enjoyment, and with a profession which brings him no liberty and no comfort, it is not astonishing that he should fall back on the world, to fill up the dreary void within. His carnal tastes never having been radically changed—but simply overcome for a season, by a rush of religious activities. So he returns naturally to gratify his carnal tastes in their old objects. His only restraints are the dread of a dark future, which he cannot shake off, and the desire to maintain a religious profession, to stand well with religious men, and to maintain his place in the church. How many of this class there may be in our day, it is only God who knows. But we are warned that, in the last days, there will be multitudes having the form of godliness—but denying its power.
These are the ambiguous disciples of our age, who belong to Christ only in name. These are the stony-ground or thorny-ground hearers; people who have a place at our communion tables, who join in religious activities, who make speeches on religious platforms, yet are, after all, "waterless springs," (2 Peter 2:17) trees that “have no root," (Luke 8:13) stars without either heat or light.
The religion of such is but a half-and-half religion; without depth, or decision, or vitality, or self-sacrifice. It is only a 'picture' or a 'statue'—not a living man.
The conversion of such has been but a half-and-half conversion; it has not gone down to the lowest depths of the man's nature. And this is not say that it is all pretence or hypocrisy; but still, it is not the real thing. It has been a movement, a shaking, a change—but it has not been a being "born of God," (1 John 5:18) a being "born according to the Spirit." (Gal 4:29)
The discipleship of such is but a half-and-half discipleship. It has some of the aspects of discipleship; but it is not a forsaking all, and taking up the cross and following Christ. It is hard to consider as genuine, the discipleship of the man who is today with Christ, tomorrow with the world; today in the sanctuary, tomorrow at the festival. There has to be suspicion attaching to all such inconsistent discipleship; it is both cold and hot; it is both worldly and unworldly; it is both Christian and un-Christian—what can it be?—what can it mean?
In speaking of such inconsistencies, we have to be faithful and direct. We are not to prophesy smooth things, and hint at certain evils, as if they were only minor imperfections, which if they are quietly removed all is set right. No; we have to strike deeper than this. We must lay the axe to the root of the tree, and say it clearly, that such inconsistencies reveal the utter unsoundness of the man's whole religious profession.
It is not that there are some flaws in his religious life; it is that his religion itself is hollow —without a foundation, without root or soil. It would be uncharitable to say it is all a lie; for there is sometimes a certain amount of good intention in it; but it is all a mistake—a great and dreadful mistake; a mistake which, if not corrected at once, must lead to the fearful darkness and woeful disappointment of an undone eternity!
Such a man's whole religious life is one grand delusion; and every step he takes in it is a blunder, and a stumble, and a snare. Let such a man know that, in his present half-worldly, half-religious condition, he has no real religion at all. It is a fiction, a delusion. It will stand no test of law or gospel, of conscience or of discipline, of time or of eternity. It will go to pieces with the first touch. It is all hollow, and must be started anew, from the very first stone of the foundation.
If, then, you would make sure your hope, and obtain a discipleship that will stand all tests, begin this day at the beginning. Count all the past as lost. Fling away your vain hopes and self-righteous confidences. Give up your fond idea of securing both earth and heaven. Go straight to the cross; there may you be crucified to the world, and the world to you, by the cross of Christ.
Go straight to the grave of Christ; there bring all your sins, your worldliness, your half-heartedness, and all that has to do with your old self, that being made to partake of Christ's death and burial, you may share in his resurrection too.
Resolve now to go to Him who died and rose again, and to bask in his love. One ounce, one drop of that love will forever put a restraint on your love of sin, and be the death of that worldliness which threatens to be your eternal ruin. The love of Christ will not only make you an out and out Christian, a thoroughgoing, decided man in all the things of God—but it will pour in a peace which you have never known, which you cannot know—except by simple faith in the heavenly Peacemaker, and in entire surrender of soul to him “who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.
Amen.” (Gal 1:4-5)