Go Out, And Be Separate
Adapted from a Tract by J. C. Ryle
"Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you." 2 Corinthians 6:17
Go out, and be separate; these words have to do with a vastly important subject in religion. That subject is the great duty of separation from the world. This is the point which the Apostle Paul had in view when he wrote to the Corinthians: “Go out—be separate.”
The subject is one that demands the best attention of all who profess and call themselves Christians. In every age of the Church separation from the world has always been one of the greatest marks of a work of grace in the heart. All who have really been born of the Spirit, and made new creatures in Christ Jesus, have always endeavoured to come out from the world, and live a separate life. They who have only had the name of Christian without the reality, have always refused to “go out and be separate” from the world.
The subject is as important today as it ever was. There is a wide-spread desire to make things pleasant in religion—to saw off the corners and edges of the cross, and to avoid, as far as possible, self-denial. On every side we hear professing Christians declaring loudly that we must not be “narrow and exclusive,” and that there is no harm in many things which the holiest saints of old thought bad for their souls. That we may go anywhere, and do anything, and spend our time in anything, and read anything, and keep any company, and plunge into anything, and all the while may be very good Christians—this, this is the maxim of thousands.
In times such as these it is good to raise a warning voice, and invite attention to the teaching of God’s Word. It is written in that Word, “Go out, and be separate.”
There are four points which shall be put before us in examining this mighty subject and which Bishop Ryle would bring to our attention:
I. First, we will see how the world is a source of great danger to the soul.
II. Secondly, we will see what is not meant by separation from the world.
III. Thirdly, we will see what real separation from the world consists in.
IV. Fourthly, we will look into the secret of victory over the world.
And now, before we go a single step further, we must realize that no one can ever understand this subject unless he first understands what a true Christian is. If you are one of those unhappy people who think everybody is a Christian who goes to church, no matter how he lives, or what he believes, it is to be feared that you will care little about separation from the world.
But if you read your Bible, and are in earnest about your soul, you will know that there are two classes of Christians—converted and unconverted. You will know that what the Jews were among the nations under the Old Testament, the true Christian is meant to be under the New. You will understand what is meant by the statement that true Christians are meant, in like manner, to be a people set apart under the Gospel, and that there must be a difference between believers and unbelievers. To you, therefore, I make a special appeal this morning. While many avoid the subject of separation from the world, and many positively hate it, and many are puzzled by it, give me your attention while I try to show you what it really is.
I. First of all, let us see how the world is a source of great danger to the soul.
Now the world here does not mean the material world on the face of which we are living and moving. Clearly, what God has created in the heavens above, or the earth beneath, is not in itself harmful to man’s soul. On the contrary, the sun, moon, and stars,—the mountains, the valleys, and the plains,—the seas, lakes, and rivers,—the animal and vegetable creation,—all are in themselves very good. All are full of lessons of God’s wisdom and power, and all proclaim daily, “The hand that made us is divine.” The idea that “matter” is in itself sinful and corrupt is a foolish false teaching.
“The world” in our context, means those people who think only, or chiefly, of this world’s things, and neglect the world to come,—the people who are always thinking more of earth than of heaven, more of time than of eternity, more of the body than of the soul, more of pleasing man than of pleasing God. It is to them and their ways, habits, customs, opinions, practices, tastes, aims, spirit, and tone, that “the world” refers to in this context. This is the world from which the Apostle Paul tells us to “Go out and be separate.”
Now that the world, in this sense, is an enemy to the soul, that hymn we often sing reminds us. It tells us in the words “with world and sin and self to part” that there are three things which a Christian is bound to renounce and give up, and three enemies which he ought to fight with and resist. These three are the flesh, the devil, and the world. All three are terrible foes, and all three must be overcome, if we would be saved.
But however encouraging the hymn, let us examine the testimony of Holy Scripture on this matter. If the following texts do not prove that the world is a source of danger to the soul, there is no meaning in words.
(i) First, let us hear what the Apostle Paul says:
—“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). “We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God” (1 Cor. 2:12). Christ “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4).“You once walked, following the course of this world” (Eph. 2:2). “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me” (2 Tim. 4:10).
(ii) Let us hear next what the Apostle James says:
—“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
(iii) Let us hear in the third place what the Apostle John says:
—“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. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John ii. 15-17). “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world” (1 John v. 4). “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 John v. 19). (Also: 1 John 3:1; 1 John 4:5).
(iv) Let us hear lastly what the Lord Jesus Christ says:
—“The cares of the world … choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matt. 13:22). “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). (Also: John 8:23; John 14:17; John 16:33)
These many texts need no comment. They speak for themselves. If anyone can read them carefully, and fail to see that the world is an enemy to the Christian, and that there is an utter opposition between the friendship of the world and the friendship of Christ, he is past the reach of argument, and there is no use reasoning with him. The lesson they contain is as clear as the noonday sun.
Nothing damages the cause of religion so much as “the world!” It is not open sin, or open unbelief, which robs Christ of His professing servants, so much as the love of the world, the fear of the world, the cares of the world, the business of the world, the money of the world, the pleasures of the world, and the desire to keep in with the world.
This is the great rock on which thousands of young people are continually making shipwreck. They do not object to any article of the Christian faith. They do not deliberately choose evil, and openly rebel against God. They hope somehow to get to heaven at last; and they think it proper to have some religion. But they cannot give up their idol: they must have the world. And so, after running well and seeming to be on the path to heaven while boys and girls, they turn aside when they become men and women, and go down the broad way which leads to destruction. They begin with Abraham and Moses, and end with Demas and Lot’s wife.
The last day alone will prove how many souls the world has slain. Many will be found to have been trained in religious families, and to have known the Gospel from their very childhood, and yet missed heaven. They left the harbour of home with bright prospects, and gone out on the ocean of life with a father’s blessing and a mother’s prayers, and then got out of the right course through the seductions of the world, and ended their voyage in shallows and in misery. It is a sorrowful story to tell; but it is sadly only too common! It is no wonder that the Apostle Paul says, “Go out and be separate.”
II. Let us now see what does not constitute separation from the world.
The point is one which requires clearing up. There are many mistakes made about it. You will sometimes see sincere and well-meaning Christians doing things which God never intended them to do, in the matter of separation from the world, and honestly believing that they are in the path of duty. Their mistakes often do great harm. They open the door to the wicked to ridicule all religion and give them an excuse for having none. They cause the way of truth to be spoken evil of, and add to the offence of the cross.
We must never forget that it is possible to be very much in earnest, and to think we are “doing God service,” when in reality we are making some great mistake. There is such a thing as “zeal not according to knowledge.” There are few things on which it is so important to pray for a right judgment and Christian common sense, as separation from the world.
(i) First, when the Apostle Paul said, “Go out and be separate,” he did not mean that Christians ought to give up all callings, trades, professions, and worldly business. He did not forbid men to be soldiers, sailors, lawyers, doctors, merchants, or tradesmen. There is not a word in the New Testament to justify such a line of conduct. Cornelius the centurion, Luke the physician, Zenas the lawyer, are examples to the contrary. Idleness is in itself a sin. A lawful calling is a remedy against temptation. “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10) writes the Apostle Paul. To give up any business of life, which is not in itself sinful from fear of getting harm from it, is lazy cowardly conduct. The right plan is to carry our religion into our business, and not to give up business under the hollow pretence that it interferes with our religion.
(ii) When the Apostle Paul said, “Go out and be separate;” he did not mean that Christians ought to decline all interaction with unconverted people, and refuse to go into their midst. There is no supports for such conduct in the New Testament. Our Lord and His disciples did not refuse to go to a marriage feast, or to have supper at a Pharisee’s table. The Apostle Paul does not say, “If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner,” you must not go, but only tells us how to behave if we do go (1 Cor. 10:27). Moreover, it is a dangerous thing to begin judging people too closely, and settling who are converted and who are not, and what society is godly and what ungodly. We are sure to make mistakes. Above all, such a course of life would cut us off from many opportunities of doing good. If we carry our Master with us wherever we go, who can tell but we may save some, and be spared from harm?
(iii) In the third place, when the Apostle Paul says, “Go out and be separate” he does not mean that Christians ought to take no interest in anything on earth except religion. To neglect science, art, literature, and politics,—to read nothing which is not directly spiritual,—to know nothing about what is going on among mankind, and never to look at a newspaper,—to care nothing about the government of one’s country, and to be utterly indifferent as to the persons who guide its counsels and make its laws,—all this may seem very right and proper in the eyes of some people. But it is more likely a selfish neglect of duty.
The Apostle Paul knew the value of good government, as one of the main helps to our living “a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way “(1 Tim. 2:2). The Apostle Paul was not ashamed to read heathen writers, and to quote their words in his speeches and writing. The Apostle Paul did not think it beneath him to show an acquaintance with the laws and customs and callings of the world, in the illustrations he gave from them. Christians who pride themselves on their ignorance of secular things are precisely the Christians who bring religion into contempt.
(iv) Next, when the Apostle Paul said, “Go out and be separate,” he did not mean that Christians should be odd, eccentric, and stand out in their dress, manners, demeanour and voice. Anything which attracts notice in these matters is not right, and ought to be carefully avoided. To wear clothes of such a colour, or made in such a way, that when you are in public every eye is fixed on you, and you are the object of general observation, is an enormous mistake. It gives an opportunity to the wicked to ridicule religion, and looks self-righteous and affected.
There is not the slightest proof that our Lord and His apostles, and Priscilla, and Persis, and their companions, did not dress and behave just like others in their own ranks of life. On the other hand, one of the many charges our Lord brings against the Pharisees was that of making broad their phylacteries, and enlarging the borders of their garments, so as to be “seen by others” (Matt. 23:5). True sanctity and being sanctimonious are entirely different things. Those who try to show their un-worldliness by any outward display miss their mark altogether, and only give opportunity to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.
(v) Lastly, when the Apostle Paul said “Go out and be separate,” he did not mean that Christians ought to retire from the company of mankind, and shut themselves up in solitude. It is one of the great errors of the Church of Rome to suppose that eminent holiness is to be attained by such practices. It is the unhappy delusion of the whole army of monks, nuns, and hermits. Separation of this kind is not according to the mind of Christ. He says distinctly in His last prayer, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). There is not a word in the Acts or Epistles to recommend such a separation. True believers are always represented as mixing in the world, doing their duty in it, and glorifying God by patience, meekness, purity, and courage in their several positions, and not by cowardly desertion of them. Moreover, it is foolish to suppose that we can keep the world and the devil out of our hearts by going into holes and corners. True religion and un-worldliness are best seen, not in timidly forsaking the post which God has allotted to us, but in manfully standing our ground, and showing the power of grace to overcome evil.
As we leave this part of our subject here are two pieces of advice, which are suited especially to young Christians. For one thing, if they really want to come out from the world, they must remember that the shortest path is not always the path of duty. To quarrel with all our unconverted relatives, to cut all our old friends, to withdraw entirely from mixed society, to live an exclusive life, to give up every act of courtesy and civility in favour of the direct work of Christ—all this may seem very right, and may satisfy our consciences and save us trouble. But consider whether it is not often a selfish, lazy, self-pleasing line of conduct, and whether the true cross and the true line of duty may not be to deny ourselves, and adopt a very different course of action.
For another thing, if they want to come out from the world, to watch against a sour, gloomy, unpleasant demeanour, and never to forget that there is such a thing as winning “without a word” (1 Peter 3:1). Let them strive to show unconverted people that their principles, whatever may be thought of them, make them cheerful, amiable, good-tempered, unselfish, considerate for others, and ready to take an interest in everything that is innocent and of good report.
In short, let there be no needless separation between us and the world. In many things, as we shall see, we must be separate; but let us take care that it is separation of the right kind. If the world is offended by such separation we cannot help it. But let us never give the world reason to say that our separation is foolish, senseless, ridiculous, unreasonable, uncharitable, and unscriptural.
III. In the third place let us see what true separation from the world really is.
That there is a certain line of conduct which all true Christians ought to pursue with respect to “the world or the things in the world,” (1 John 2:15) is very evident. The texts already quoted make that plain. The key to the solution of that question lies in the word “separation.” But in what separation consists it is not easy to show. On some points it is not hard to lay down particular rules; on others it is impossible to do more than state general principles, and leave everyone to apply them according to their position in life. And what follows is an attempt to do this.
(i) First and foremost, the one who wants to go out from the world, and be separate, must steadily and habitually refuse to be guided by the world’s standard of right and wrong.
The rule of the bulk of mankind is to go with the stream, to do as others, to follow the fashion, to keep in with the common opinion, and to set your watch by the town clock. The true Christian will never be content with such a rule as that. He will simply ask, What say the Scriptures? What is written in the Word of God? He will maintain firmly that nothing can be right which God says is wrong, and that the customs and opinions of his neighbours can never make that to be unimportant which God calls serious, or that to be no sin which God calls sin.
He will never think lightly of such sins as drinking, lying, cheating, fraud, or homosexuality, or breach of the seventh commandment, because they are common, and many say, Where is the mighty harm? That miserable argument—“Everybody thinks so, everybody says so, everybody does it, everybody will be there,” counts for nothing with him. Is it condemned or approved by the Bible? That is his only question. If he stands alone in the neighbourhood, or town, or congregation, he will not go against the Bible. If he has to come out from the crowd, and take a position by himself, he will not flinch from it rather than disobey the Bible. This is genuine Scriptural separation.
(ii) The one who wants to go out from the world, and be separate, must be very careful how he spends his leisure time.
This is a point which at first sight seems unimportant. But it has great power to good or harm. Honourable occupation and lawful business are a great safeguard to the soul, and the time that is spent in them is comparatively the time of our least danger. The devil finds it hard to get a hearing from a busy person. But when the day’s work is over, and the time of leisure arrives, then comes the hour of temptation.
Everyone who wants to live a Christian life ought to be very careful how they spend their evenings. Evening is the time when we are naturally disposed to relax after the labours of the day; and evening is the time when the Christian is too often tempted to lay aside his armour, and consequently gets trouble on his soul. “then the devil comes,” (Luke 8:12) and with the devil the world.
The true Christian will do well to make it a settled rule never to waste his evenings. Whatever others may do, let him resolve always to make time for quiet, calm thought—for Bible-reading and prayer. The rule will prove a hard one to keep. It may bring on him the charge of being unsocial and over-strict. Let him not mind this. Anything of this kind is better than habitual late hours in company, hurried prayers, careless Bible-reading, and a bad conscience. Even if he stands alone, let him not depart from his rule. He will find himself in a minority, and be thought a peculiar person. But this is genuine Scriptural separation.
(iii) Those who want to go out from the world, and be separate, must steadily and consistently determine not to be swallowed up and absorbed in the business of the world.
True Christians will strive to do their duty in whatever station or position they finds themselves, and to do it well. Whether statesman, or businessman, or doctor, or farmer, they will try fill their role so that no one can find fault in them. But they will not allow it to get between themselves and Christ. If they find their business beginning to eat up their Sundays, their Bible-reading, their private prayer, and to bring clouds between them and heaven, they will say, “Stand back! There is a limit. Up to here you may go, but no further. I cannot sell my soul for place, fame, or gold.”
Like Daniel, they will make time for their communion with God, whatever the cost may be. In all this they will find they stand almost alone. Many will laugh at them, and tell them they get on well enough without being so strict and particular. They will pay no attention to it. They will resolutely hold the world at arm’s length, whatever present loss or sacrifice it may seem to lead to. They will choose rather to be less rich and prosperous in this world, than not to prosper about their soul. To stand alone in this way, to run counter to the ways of others, requires immense self-denial. But this is genuine Scriptural separation.
(iv) In the fourth place, the one who wants to go out from the world, and be separate must steadily abstain from all amusements and recreations which are inseparably connected with sin.
This is a hard subject to handle, but still, it must be addressed considering such a matter as separation from the world.
And here I will directly quote from Ryle who addresses the amusements of his day and ask each one to consider how these thoughts apply to our day.
Let me, then, say honestly, that I cannot understand how anyone who makes any pretence to real vital religion, can allow himself to attend races and theatres. Conscience, no doubt, is a strange thing, and every man must judge for himself and use his liberty. One man sees no harm in things which another regards with abhorrence as evil. I can only give my own opinion for what it is worth, and entreat my readers to consider seriously what I say.
That to look at horses running at full speed is in itself perfectly harmless, no sensible man will pretend to deny. That many plays, such as Shakespeare’s, are among the finest productions of the human intellect, is equally undeniable. But all this is beside the question. The question is whether horse-racing and theatres in England are not inseparably bound up with things that are downright wicked. I assert without hesitation that they are so bound up. I assert that the breach of God’s commandments so invariably accompanies the race and the play, that you cannot go to the amusement without helping sin.
I entreat all professing Christians to remember this, and to take heed what they do. I warn them plainly that they have no right to shut their eyes to facts which every intelligent person knows, for the mere pleasure of seeing a horse-race, or listening to good actors or actresses. I warn them that they must not talk of separation from the world, if they can lend their sanction to amusements which are invariably connected with gambling, betting, drunkenness, and fornication. These are the things which God will judge. The end of these things is death.
Hard words these, no doubt! But are they not true? It may seem to your relatives and friends very strait-laced, strict, and narrow, if you tell them you cannot go to the races or the theatre with them. But we must fall back on first principles. Is the world a danger to the soul or is it not? Are we to come out from the world or are we not? These are questions which can only be answered in one way.
If we love our souls we must have nothing to do with amusements which are bound up with sin. Nothing short of this can be called genuine Scriptural separation from the world.
(v) Next, the one who wants to go out from the world, and be separate, must be moderate in the use of lawful and innocent recreations.
No sensible Christian will ever think of condemning all recreations. In a world of wear and tear like the one we live in, occasional unbending and relaxation are good. For the body and mind alike need times of more relaxing occupation, and opportunities of expending energy, and especially when they are young. Exercise itself is essential for preserving good mental and bodily health. Running, cycling, swimming and other athletic recreations can do much good. Chess and such like games of skill can also be good exercises for the mind. After all, we are all fearfully and wonderfully made.
Anything which strengthens nerves, and brain, and digestion, and lungs, and muscles, and makes us more fit for Christ’s work, so long as it is not in itself sinful, is a blessing, and ought to be thankfully used. Anything which will occasionally divert our thoughts from their usual grinding work in a healthy way, is a good and not an evil.
But it is the excess of these innocent things which a true Christian must watch against, if he wants to be separate from the world. He must not devote his whole heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and time to them, as many do, if he wishes to serve Christ. There are hundreds of lawful things which are good in moderation, but bad when taken in excess: they are good medicine in small quantities—but they are downright poison when swallowed down in huge doses.
In nothing is this so true as it is in the matter of recreations. The use of them is one thing, and the abuse of them is another. The Christian who uses them must know when to stop, and how to say Hold! enough! Do they interfere with his private religion? Do they take up too much of his thoughts and attention? Do they have a worldly effect on his soul? Do they have a tendency to pull him down to earth? Then let him take care and exercise self control.
All this will require courage, self-denial, and firmness. It is a line of conduct which will often bring on us the ridicule and contempt of those who do not know what moderation is, and who spend their lives in making trifles serious things and serious things trifles. But if we mean to go out from the world we must not pay attention to this. We must be moderate even in lawful things, whatever others may think of us. This is genuine Scriptural separation.
(vi) Last, but not least, the one who wants to go out from the world, and be separate must be careful how he allows himself in friendships, intimacies, and close relationships with worldly people.
We cannot help meeting many unconverted people as long as we live. We cannot avoid having interacting with them, and doing business with them, unless “we go out of the world” (1 Cor. 5:10). To treat them with the utmost courtesy, kindness, and charity, whenever we do meet them, is a positive duty. But acquaintance is one thing, and intimate friendship is quite another. To seek their company without cause, to choose their company, to cultivate intimacy with them, is very dangerous to the soul. Human nature is such that we cannot be much with other people without it affecting our own character. The old proverb will never fail to prove true: “Tell me with whom a man chooses to live, and I will tell you what he is.”
The Scripture says expressly, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov. 13:20). If, then, a Christian, who desires to live consistently, chooses as his friends those who either do not care for their souls, or the Bible, or God, or Christ, or holiness, or look on them as secondary things¾it will be impossible for him to advance in his religion.
He will soon find that their ways are not his ways, nor their thoughts his thoughts, nor their tastes his tastes; and that, unless they change, he must stop being close to them. In short, there must be separation. Of course such separation will be painful. But if we have to choose between the loss of a friend and the health of our souls, there ought to be no doubt in our minds. If friends will not walk in the narrow way with us, we must not walk in the broad way to please them. But let us distinctly understand that to attempt to keep up close intimacy between a converted and an unconverted person, if both are consistent with their natures, is to attempt something which is impossible.
And now these six general hints to all who wish to follow the Apostle Paul’s advice, and to come out from the world and be separate have been laid before us. They are not perfect or infallible but I think they deserve our consideration and attention. It is no doubt a subject full of difficulties, and there are many doubtful cases that continually arise in a Christian’s life, in which it is very hard to say what is the path of duty, and how to behave.
Perhaps the following brief advice may be useful.
- In all doubtful cases we should first pray for wisdom and sound judgment. If prayer is worth anything, it must be specially valuable when we want to do right, but do not see our way.
- In all doubtful cases let us often test ourselves by remembering that the eye of God is on us. Would I go to such and such a place, or do such and such a thing, if I really thought God was looking at me?
- In all doubtful cases let us never forget the second coming of Christ and the day of judgment. Would I like to be found then in such and such company, or employed in such and such ways?
- Finally, in all doubtful cases let us find out what the conduct of the holiest and best Christians has been under similar circumstances. If we do not clearly see our own way, we need not be ashamed to follow good examples.
Hopefully these suggestions will help to untie many knots, and solve many problems for any who perplexed in difficult situations, in the matter of separation from the world.
IV. We will now close the whole subject by looking into the secrets of real victory over the world.
To come out from the world of course is not an easy thing. It cannot be easy so long as human nature is what it is, and a busy devil is always near us. It requires a constant struggle and exertion; it involves unceasing conflict and self-denial; it often places us in exact opposition to members of our own families, to relations and neighbours; it sometimes compels us to do things which give great offence, and bring on us ridicule and petty persecution.
It is precisely this which makes many hang back and shrink from decided religion. They know they are not right; they know that they are not so “thorough” in Christ’s service as they ought to be, and they feel uncomfortable and ill-at-ease. But the fear of man keeps them back. And so they linger on through life with aching, dissatisfied hearts—with too much religion to be happy in the world, and too much of the world to be happy in their religion. This is likely a very common case if the truth were known.
Yet there are some in every age who seem to get the victory over the world. They come out decidedly from its ways, and are unmistakably separate. They are independent of its opinions, and unshaken by its opposition. They move on like planets in an orbit of their own, and seem to rise equally above the world’s smiles and frowns. And what are the secrets of their victory? Let us look into them.
(i) The first secret of victory over the world is a right heart.
By this is meant a renewed heart, changed, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit—a heart in which Christ dwells, a heart in which old things have passed away, and all things become new. The grand mark of such a heart is the bias of its tastes and affections. The owner of such a heart no longer likes the world, and the things of the world, and therefore finds it no trial or sacrifice to give them up.
He no longer has any appetite for the company, the conversation, the amusements, the occupations, the books which he once loved, and to “go out” from them seems natural to him. Great indeed is the expulsive power of a new principle! The new heart of a believer invariably affects his tastes and likings, and makes him drop many things which he once loved and lived in, because he simply does not like them any more. Let the one who wants to go out from the world, and be separate, make sure first and foremost that he has got a new heart. If the heart is really right, everything else will eventually be right. “If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light” (Matt. 6:22.) If the affections are not right, there never will be right action.
(ii) The second secret of victory over the world is a lively practical faith in unseen things.
What do the Scriptures say: “this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith”? (1 John 5:4). To attain and keep up the habit of looking steadily at invisible things, as if they were visible—to set before our minds every day, as grand realities, our souls, God, Christ, heaven, hell, judgment, eternity—to cling to a living conviction that what we do not see is just as real as what we do see, and ten thousand times more important—this is one way to be conquerors over the world.
This was the faith which made the noble army of saints, described in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, obtain such a glorious testimony from the Holy Spirit. They all acted under a firm persuasion that they had a real God, a real Saviour, and a real home in heaven, though unseen by mortal eyes. Armed with this faith a man looks at this world as a shadow compared to the world to come, and cares little for its praise or blame, its hostility or its rewards.
Let the one who wants to come out from the world and be separate, but shrinks and hangs back for fear of the things seen, pray and strive to have this faith. “All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23). Like Moses, he will find it possible to forsake Egypt, seeing Him that which is invisible. Like Moses, he will not care what he loses and who is displeased, because he sees afar off, like one looking though a telescope, at a substantial reward. (Heb. 11:26).
(iii) The third and last secret of victory over the world, is to attain and cultivate the habit of boldly confessing Christ on all proper occasions.
Now this is not to say that one should blow a trumpet before him, and constantly push his religion on others. But it is to encourage all who strive to come out from the world to show their colours, and to act and speak out like men who are not ashamed to serve Christ.
A steady, quiet assertion of our own principles, as Christians—an habitual readiness to let the children of the world see that we are guided by other rules than they are, and do not intend to swerve from them—a calm, firm, courteous maintenance of our own standard of things in every company—all this will gradually form a habit within us, and make it comparatively easy to be separate people.
It will be hard at first, no doubt, and cost us many struggles; but the longer we go on, the easier it will be. Repeated acts of confessing Christ will produce habits. Habits once formed will produce a settled character. Our characters once known, we will save us much trouble. Men will know what to expect from us, and will count it no strange thing if they see us living the lives of separate peculiar people.
It is a great thing to be able to say “No” decidedly, but courteously, when asked to do anything which conscience says is wrong. The one that shows his colours boldly from the first, and is never ashamed to let men see whose he is and whom he serves, will soon find that he has overcome the world, and will be let alone. Bold confession is a big step towards victory.
And now that we have heard of the danger of the world ruining the soul, the nature of true separation from the world, and the secrets of victory over the world, here are, in conclusion, a few short words of application.
(1) The first word will be a question.
Are you overcoming the world, or are you overcome by it? Do you know what it is to come out from the world and be separate, or are you yet entangled by it, and conform to it? If you have any desire to be saved, I urge you to answer this question.
If you know nothing of “separation,” please hear this heartfelt warning that your soul is in great danger. The world is passing away; and those who cling to the world, and think only of the world, will pass away with it to everlasting ruin. Wake up now to know your danger before it be too late. Awake and flee from the wrath to come. The time is short. The end of all things is close at hand. The shadows are lengthening. The sun is going down, The night is coming when no man can work. The great white throne will soon be set. The judgment will begin. The books will be opened. Awake, and come out from the world while it is called today.
Yet a little while, and there will be no more worldly occupations and worldly amusements—no more getting money and spending money—no more eating, and drinking, and feasting, and dressing, and party-going, and movies, and all such entertainments. Now what will you do when all these things have passed away for ever? How can you possibly be happy in an eternal heaven, where holiness is everything, and worldliness has no place? You must consider these things, and be wise! Awake, and break the chains which the world has thrown around you. Awake and flee from the wrath to come.
(2) The second word will be a counsel.
If you are one who wants to come out from the world, but do not know what to do, listen to this advice given you today.
Begin by applying directly, as a penitent sinner, to our Lord Jesus Christ, and put your case in his hands. Pour out your heart before Him. Tell Him your whole story, and keep nothing back. Tell Him that you are a sinner wanting to be saved from the world, the flesh, and the devil, and entreat Him to save you.
That blessed Saviour “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:2). He knows what the world is, for He lived in it thirty three years. He knows what the difficulties of a man are, for He was made man for our sakes, and dwelt among men. High in heaven, at the right hand of God, He is able to save to the uttermost all who come to God by Him—able to keep us from the evil of the world while we are still living in it—able to give us power to become the Sons of God—able to keep us from falling—able to make us more than conquerors. Go directly to Christ with the prayer of faith, and put yourself wholly and unreservedly in His hands. Hard as it may seem to you now to come out from the world and be separate, you will find that with Jesus nothing is impossible. You, even you, will overcome the world.
(3) The third and last word will be encouragement.
If you are one who has learned by experience what it is to come out from the world, take comfort, and persevere. You are on the right path; you have no reason to be afraid. The everlasting hills are in sight. Your salvation is nearer than when you first believed. Take comfort and press on.
No doubt you have had many a battle, and made many a false step. You have sometimes felt ready to faint, and been half disposed to go back to Egypt. But your Master has never entirely left you, and He will never allow you to be tempted above what you are able to bear. Then persevere steadily in your separation from the world, and never be ashamed of standing alone. Settle it firmly in your mind that the most decided Christians are always the happiest, and remember that no one ever said at the end of his life that he had been too holy, and lived too near to God.
Hear, last of all, what is written in the Scriptures of truth:
“Everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8).
“There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29, 30).
“Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay” (Heb. 10:35-37).
If you are a believer, those words were written and spoken for your sake. Lay hold on them, and never forget them. Persevere to the end, and never be ashamed of coming out from the world, and being separate. Knowing surely that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom 8:18)