Victory over the World!
Adapted from a Sermon by George Everard, 1866
“Be faithful unto 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 enemies — and then grace places on his head the crown of life. In the letter to the seven Churches of Asia of the book of Revelation, 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 the one who conquers." (Rev 2:7)
Among other enemies, we must overcome the world. Victory over it is God's seal upon the heaven-born soul. "For everyone who has been born of God,” writes the Apostle John, “overcomes the world." (1 John 5:4)
But what then does it mean to “overcome the world?” How is this accomplished? What does it look like? Here are six headings to show and illustrate this most vital mission of the Christian walk.
1. First, to overcome the world, is to not follow the multitude around us.
Ever since the fall, mankind have been going astray. The stream has been running in the 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 brightly 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 only eight souls were saved in the ark, and even among them were some who were not born of God. In the days of Elijah, out of the many tens of thousands of Israel — there were only seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Baal. In the days of the prophet Isaiah, there was only "a few survivors." (Is 1:9)
When the Son of man was on earth, He reminded His disciples that those who would follow Him must be content to have but few friends: "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." (Matt 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 Christ are far more than outnumbered by the children of this world.
If this is so, do not shy away 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 to the heavenly Jerusalem — you will not stay with them in the City of Destruction. The company you will meet with at your destination, will more than compensate for the loneliness of the road. You may be solitary at times now, but at the end of your course there awaits for you a joyful welcome from the whole family of the redeemed.
2. In the second place, to overcome the world, is to rise above the allurements which it has to offer.
The world all around us is full of honors, gains, vanities, and pleasures by which many are drawn aside, and, through the craft of their devious enemy, lose their kingdom and their crown!
Someone may wonder: Is there not a place for the pursuit of lawful things? It is both natural and right that men should endeavour 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 need to follow such directions as Christ laid down for our guidance in the Sermon on the Mount.
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matt 6:19-21) That is, let the securing of earthly treasures be secondary to the obtaining of treasures in Heaven. Let your heart be on heavenly treasures, not on the earthly.
Again, "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matt 6:33)
Parallel to this again is the lesson taught in the parable of the dishonest manager. No praise is given to his injustice, but to his wisdom. "The lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely." (Luke 16:8 KJV) He used the present, that he might secure the future. Thus we find the teaching summed up: "I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings!" (Luke 16:9) That is, use your wealth in such a way — wealth that is by others too often 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, will welcome you to His kingdom. (Luke 16.8, 9.)
To help you in evaluating the true value of these things, so much coveted by man, lay to heart the instability which is stamped on all worldly riches.
All overriding affection for earthly things, all reliance upon them — is building on sandy ground. Before long some fierce storm will sweep it all away, and the hopes fixed there will perish in a moment. Only on the Rock may we securely build — Jesus Christ, who abides forever.
A word here should also be said with reference to doubtful amusements.
To speak of them is to tread on 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 the most advantage.
Judge whether the atmosphere of the theatre, the ballroom, and such-like scenes of worldly amusement are not very harmful to the life of God in the soul. When near the Tropics you cannot but be affected by the heat — and when near the Poles you cannot but be affected by 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 wise not to go to the brink of temptation, but to keep as far away as possible.
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 four,
"The world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world." (John 17:14-16)
"Do not be conformed to this world." (Rom 12:2)
"Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of 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)
There are many more such passages giving precious direction in our dealings with this world. (Luke 8.14; 9.23; Philippians 3.13, 14, 20, 21; Colossians 3.1,2; 1 Timothy 5.6; Titus 2.12-14; 1 Peter 4.7; 2 Peter 3.11, 12)
There is a way of turning aside the goal 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 quoted above will give no doubtful guidance.
Doubt not that our Father delights in the happiness of His children, and that He will not deny whatever really contributes 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.
And 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 “choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.” (Heb 11:25)
Under other circumstances, he might have retained much and consecrated it to the service of God — but when it came into competition with a better portion, he gave it all up. "He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. " Hebrews 11:26-27
3. In the third place, if we would overcome the world, we must not be wholly engrossed by the daily routine of duty.
That we ought to diligently attend to the claims of a lawful calling, no one can doubt; but it is the spirit in which we do so, that marks whether the world is our servant or our master.
The labourer with his hand on the plough may cherish within, bright thoughts of the Paradise above. The merchant, through the day mingling in the busy crowd, may yet find a vacant place within for the blessed 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 very differently, "Oh, my Savior, keep me near You by Your grace! In life's conflict be ever at my right hand! In all my labours may I glorify You! If riches increase, teach me rightly to use them! May I so pass through the things of time, that finally I lose not the things eternal!"
4. In the fourth place, 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 — His faithful martyrs have suffered the loss of all things, even life itself, rather than deny Him whom they loved. Nor is this trial passed. "All who will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution." (2 Tim 3:12) Especially at the outset of a Christian life, is this cross often 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 bed,
or the desolation of a bereaved heart.
To bear up under trials such as these, for 10 or 20 or more years, without murmuring and always ready to extol, in the hearing of saints and sinners, the name of our blessed Redeemer; This is to overcome the world.
5. In the fifth place, to overcome the world, we must not be guided by the maxims which the world follows.
Profession of religion abounds — many wish, in some sense, to be counted as 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 motivate them are not those of Holy Scripture? Are not such maxims as the following, the basis of day to day conduct, even in a large proportion of those who are found each Sunday within the walls of a Christian church?
"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."
This is not to say that people actually say such words with their lips, but are they not the rule by which they live?
Yet go to the faithful Word of God. What are the maxims which are laid down there? 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 Scriptures — 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 Buddhist would consider the idol which he once worshiped, but now has broken in pieces, or cast down beneath his feet — so look upon this present world. 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 to go through life in this way? Far, far from it. It requires great effort, and watchfulness, and prayer. Those who imagine there to be no difficulty, have never yet, in reality, made the attempt.
Is it possible to go through life in this way? Surely it is. In a great measure each Christian may be victorious in this conflict. God puts a weapon into our hands, so mighty that we need never despair, "this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one 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? This brings us to the sixth heading,
6. To overcome the world, we must engage the power of Christ by faith.
Man is weak and powerless to meet even a single temptation. "Apart from me," Christ declares, "you can do nothing." (John 15:5) But the strong Redeemer has promised to extend His mighty power to support those who rely upon Him. Faith does this. Faith has been beautifully defined to be "the Holy Spirit moving the soul to lean on Jesus!" And this is how the believer can rise above all the opposing influences which surround him.
"Little children, you are from God and have overcome them (That is, false teachers), for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." (1 John 4:4)
Faith triumphs, because it brings love.
"Faith working through 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 had for 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 infant.
The love of Christ, poured into 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 laboured 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 controls us," (2 Cor 5:14) was the secret of his life.
And love is ever the child of true faith. Everyone that believes in Christ, must love Him. To those who believe, he is precious. (1 Peter 2:7) The more also faith increases, the more also will love.
Faith triumphs, because it brings with it a present joy. A joy which is hidden from the world.
Faith brings joy. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing." (Rom 15:13) 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 — without, in some measure, receiving a ray of gladness into the soul?
Joy brings strength. "The joy of the LORD is your strength." (Neh 8:10) 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 meditating on. The joy of faith triumphs over the world.
The one who has just tasted of the grapes of Eschol — will have no desire for the apples of Sodom. The one who has quenched his thirst from the waters of the River of Life — will not lower himself to drink of the earth's polluted streams.
"Why do you now abstain from what you used to delight in?" is asked of the godly man. "I have found something better — I have found Jesus," will be the reply.
The more we can find satisfaction and rest in Christ, as the great satisfaction of our souls — the more completely will we be able to cast off the spirit of the world, that as yet may cling to us. There are trees which keep many of their old leaves — until new ones are produced. 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 will yet be manifested, the things of the day are but as a passing shadow.
But take the telescope. "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Heb 11:1) Believe in the promises of Christ, with reference to a world yet to come. Contemplate, in sure expectation, the land that is far off, the mansions in the Father's house, the glory of the everlasting city.
The things of the here-and-now will then lose much of their power. A new source of motivation 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 thin, but to him they were enough. No doubt existed in his mind; and in this faith, he rose above obstacles, which were well near insurmountable.
For more than twenty years he endured all kinds of hardships, rather than give up the purpose he had formed, of setting out 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 suited for such a voyage, he set out 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 honoured 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 trials of this life cannot come. It is revealed to us on no doubtful authority. We believe in its existence, not because of any random reports, or guesses and speculations of our own — but on the testimony of Him who cannot lie.
In our path, however, lay many and great perils. Many great waves roll between us and the desired haven. But why should 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 will not dismay, nor fears overwhelm us.
Before long the long awaited rest will be entered, and to God will be all the glory. And then shall we ascribe all the praise to His merciful guidance and mighty protection.
"Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness." (Ps 115:1)