On Conformity to the World.

1889 332 One principal purpose which the Lord had in view, by continuing for a season in their present state the people who should be gathered together in one, through His death, was that a practical witness of the character of God might be given to the world; and this in the joint testimony of those who by one Spirit were united together; and who, though not indeed taken out of the world, were to be delivered from the evil of it. Such was the church, whilst continuing in holy separateness; it was a living warning to all around, "of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment." But where is that witness now? A long and dreary period has passed away since the church stood as a burning and a shining light; and the very name of christian was sufficient to brand its possessor as an enemy of the world. Its failure is continually and painfully exhibited in the overwhelming mass of nominal profession, which now assumes its place, and the perplexity and inconsistency which tarnish the walk of many a child of God in the present day.

But though as a collective body the church has lost the place of witness, still is each believer a temple of the Holy Ghost; and as such, answerable for being led by the Spirit in all the circumstances in which he may be placed. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, THEY are the sons of God." One thing is clear, that with the world the Spirit of Christ can have no connection; for He must ever lead from the world to God. As professing therefore to be guided by the Spirit, it is a sure and safe criterion in every case of doubt and perplexity, to consider how far God has fellowship in that which we do. The present day is so peculiarly characterised by the inconsistent walking of believers, and the efforts of Satan to unite them with one or another of the manifold forms of worldliness, that it may be well to notice some of the prevailing evils, which have contributed, in no small degree, to lower the standard of christian practice. Remember, that the word of God is clear, "All that is in the world is not of the Father;" and that upon all the natural heart desires scripture passes one unqualified judgment, "That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God."

There is one special snare to which believers are peculiarly liable in the present time; more perhaps than in any other since Paul warned Timothy against the antitheseis tes pseudonymou gnoseos, "the oppositions of science falsely so called," words which so well describe the character of the antithetical philosophy of the present day. We speak of the seductions of the intellect, to which many who may be free from the grosser forms of self-seeking are peculiarly exposed. The expressions of scripture respecting the world and worldliness are too often qualified by them to suit their own particular tastes and propensities. Men easily profess to abjure that for which they have little or no natural inclination, whilst they strenuously contend for that which is only the world in its more refined state, and is all the more dangerous, because more delusive, than the temptations peculiarly addressed to the lower tendencies of human nature. The two are distinguished by the apostle as the desires of the flesh and of the mind (Eph. 2). And verily the spiritual idolatry, which is the sin of the present day, the consummation of all that man is capable of doing against God, is infinitely more dangerous from its subtlety, and the manifold phases which it assumes in the mind, than all the other depths into which a wayward heart and the devices of the enemy may beguile us.

Let us not be mistaken in this. We argue not against the improvement of the mind. Most assuredly it is desirable that every faculty should be fully and healthfully developed; and education, in the proper sense of the word (i.e., the opening all the powers of the mind, and directing them to God's glory), is above all things to be looked to. But the error against which we firmly contend is that of making the means the end. The desire for the improvement of the mind, considered by itself, is but a refined selfishness if it stops there, and does not train every power of the intellect with a direct view to the service of God. All that tends not to His service, all that may not in some way be wielded as an instrument in this work, is for self alone; and in its results will invariably be found unprofitable, however splendid such acquirements may appear to the mind which judges of their value by the proportion of credit which they obtain amongst men.

For let it be considered, as assuredly we ought, that life, whether natural or spiritual, is ACTION; and in the christian, action constant and undivided for God's glory. Nay more; the mind which is held to be the most informed and accomplished is in fact but a wilderness, if it knows not the only true wisdom. It is grievous when we look, not merely to the pursuits of the natural man, following the wanderings of his own mind, and seeking a phantom which eludes his grasp, but to the objects which engage so mach of the attention even of God's children, to see such an infinity of labour bestowed on what is called truth, but is not so; and the practical denial of its only source, the knowledge never ending, never wearying, of God, that knowledge which also opens a field for the richest and most varied application of every intellectual power, and maintains them all in true and healthful proportion. Anything short of this (from which it is manifest that the great mass of what is called the intelligence of the world is systematically and voluntarily alienated) is but the laborious idleness of the mind seeking happiness in something out of God, and the evidence that it has never yet acknowledged the full length and breadth of the Spirit's testimony concerning Jesus, "that in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."

It is well for every believer to realise how much God can do — how little man. All human aids indeed we take with thankfulness, as from Providence, Who orders these things, as well as all others, to work together for His own glory, though men are little conscious of it. Yet they are still but aids; and one ray of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God has more real effect in expanding the mind, than all the combined instrumentality of human genius and learning besides. Things are not depreciated, as has been rightly said, when placed on their true level. The machinery in ordinary use is not undervalued by the assertion that, when it has raised man to its utmost reach, God can raise him infinitely higher. At a time when mere human power is rated so high, and the productions of that which is purely man's intellect are gazed upon by many, as in no small degree approximating to a participation in the divine nature; it is well to remember the terms in which scripture speaks of all that descends to us from Adam, not merely in this body of death, but in the mind which dwells within it.

"There is none that understandeth," is God's estimate of all the boasted light of human reason; though we know it not till informed by the Spirit. "Having the understanding darkened" is the universal character of man, however bright the array of natural powers with which he is gifted may appear. And let it not be forgotten, that the source of much of this power is "the tree of knowledge of good and evil;" so that men ignorantly pride themselves upon that knowledge which found an entrance into the mind only through the first act of disobedience against God; and which, as to all its diversified semblances, proves itself in every natural man to be the legitimate fruit of the tree from which it sprang, which was good indeed in itself, but was obtained by the subtlety of Satan, in disbelief of God's sufficiency. It is instructive to observe that, when Cain went forth from the presence of the Lord, the inventions and luxuries of life began; and doubtless power in the earth continued exclusively with his descendants, until the "sons of God," the holy seed, united themselves with the children of men, and all trace of separation in the fear of God was lost in the indiscriminate exhibition of self-will and violence which overspread the world.

The child of this world often professes to approach God by science and the study of nature. And here again the christian is called upon to discriminate. In that which is truly and properly the work of God in creation, he cannot but rejoice; yea, and renders "glory, honour, and power" to Him "Whose hand has made all these things;" for they are His, and are the expression of His wondrous mind. We see in them (what we cannot see in the works of fallen man) the evidence and expression of His eternal power and Godhead; and so far glory in them. But as sons of God we are called to know Him in a character far more excellent and blessed, even as THE FATHER. And this knowledge we do not gain from without, for it is the Spirit's special office "to tell us plainly of the Father." All other ways by which men may profess to approach Him bring them no farther than the Gentile outer court of the Holy of Holies; an Israelite alone can enter in.

Let us learn by the example of one who had tried everything, and not only sought out and gathered to himself all earthly glory and pleasure, such as fell to the lot of none, before or after ("for what can the man do that cometh after the king?"); but applied to the discovery such wisdom as none ever had; and moreover exceeded all in knowledge, "for he spake of trees, of the cedar that is in Lebanon, even to the hyssop that springeth out of the wall; he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes. And there came of all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth which had heard of his wisdom." Yet what is the end? "I, the preacher, was king over Israel, in Jerusalem; and I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are under heaven. This sore travail hath God given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun, and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. That which is crooked cannot be made straight; and that which is wanting cannot be numbered."

The character of the intellect of the present day, by which so many "professing themselves to be wise" are led astray, is but one of the manifold forms of human perverseness setting itself up against God; with more refinement it may be, but with no less determinateness of opposition than in those who impugn God's declared will because He has not written a revelation of it in the skies. "The Greeks seek after wisdom." Hence have arisen the philosophical expositions of Christianity, and "metaphysical projections" of the christian scheme, peculiar to this age and to the second century; all only the attempts of man to penetrate by the mere subtlety of human reason the mysterious doctrine of the cross; which is either never reached, or, if seen, continues as ever "foolishness."

Take another view. The state of the world, as ignorant of God, is this: "Rejoicing in the works of their own hands" (Acts 7:41). But are there not many whose lives should be a practical testimony against it all, who appear as though their hearts were in it as much as others? It is wisdom to learn from an enemy; let us hear the testimony of the sharp-sighted world against the inconsistencies of believers.

"As far as we are enabled to discover, they (the serious) testify no reluctance to follow the footsteps of the worldly in the road to wealth; we look in vain for any distinguishing mark in this respect between the two classes of society; that which is 'of the world,' and that which is 'not of the world.' All appear to be actuated by the same common impulse to push their fortunes in life; all exhibit the same ardent, enterprising zeal in their respective pursuits."

"They live in the common haunts of men, gratify their common desires, engage in their common pursuits, partake of their common indulgencies; they toil along with the worldly through paths beset with temptation in various shapes. They run with all imaginable alacrity and cheerfulness in the race after fame, and honours, and emoluments, where the faith and principles of men are most severely tried; they acquiesce in all the devices of luxury, to pamper the children of prosperity, and manifest the same indifference with others to the cost of human happiness and innocence, at which these may be supplied" (Edinburgh Review).

These answers come from no friend to God's truth; yet they are but too true, and may serve to shame many a professed disciple, who is occupied by "the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things." We may add one remark in reference to the children of religious parents. In too many instances the same anxiety for placing them in situations which the world counts honourable is manifested as in worldly families; and for this end many a believer will not hesitate to place his child in scenes of temptation, and in circumstances of exposure to evil, where it cannot be expected that the care of the Spirit of God will follow them. The result is, that we believe it will be found in numberless instances that religious parents have been visited with a curse upon their children, just in proportion as they themselves have been involved in the world.

Is there not too little consistent exemplification of the apostle's command, "Let your moderation be known unto all men:" too little proof of our "counting all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord"? On the contrary, does not the deceitfulness of the heart or carelessness about the Lord's glory lead many to seek by various sophistries to satisfy themselves that the christian may have fellowship with the world, at least in some things, if not in all? But if there be any truth in every scripture declaration respecting the world, this one thing is certain, that he who argues deliberately how far he may continue in the world proves that his affections are in it altogether. The application of the expression of scripture is often indeed sought to be evaded by the question, What is the world? But is it credible that the Scripture would set forth so pregnant, so critical a principle, enforced by such fearful warnings, and then leave to every man's notions what he was to avoid? The truth is that its language is infinitely more exact than is commonly supposed; and the everyday conversation of men, in their common use of the term "the world," invariably expresses the thing against which we are warned. But in fact they who ask this question are able full well to answer it themselves. When they speak of rising in the world, of getting credit and a name in it, they know precisely what "the world" means. But when anything is to be given up for Christ's sake, a sudden indistinctness invests everything; and the unfaithful heart is allowed to draw its own line between what is and what is not of the world.

But in all the various appearances which the world assumes, however fair and attractive to the mind and eye, it is exclusively spoken of in Scripture as a thing to be overcome. God has laid down a broad principle, which he who runs may read; and love and faithfulness to Christ alone can be the true guide in applying it. It is judging of things rather by our own thoughts concerning them than by the plain statements of the word of God, which keeps men in it. In truth, the great secret of conformity to the world is taking for granted that "things are as they should be. It has been truly said that "there are many saints, but very few Christians:" many who owe to Christ the unspeakable debt of forgiveness through His blood, few who are willing to follow Him Who has so loved them, even to the renunciation of all things. And what was His distinct unqualified testimony against the world? That "the deeds thereof are evil;" and whilst Himself in it, it was simply in witness for God and against them. A disciple could not remain in it, for the call was ever, "Follow Me;" although, like Jesus, he would be habitually there, as far as he was enabled to bring God's testimony to bear upon the consciences of men by his own conversation in the world.

This is the true answer to the question, "How far may we mingle with the world?" As far and as often as we can witness for Jesus. One consideration which at once overrules all others in a Christian's mind is this, that Christ's mission, as regards His people, was for this sole object, "That He might deliver s from this present evil world." And therefore in pleading for conformity to the world we plead for conformity to that, deliverance from which cost nothing less than the death of the Son of God. The practical question for the believer is, Can I have fellowship with that with which He has none? The example of others is often pleaded; but to our own Master we stand or fall. If many Christians are mingled with it, this only renders it the more imperative on any who see the mischief which is thus occasioned by the church of God to give by their lives a more distinct protest; and thus it becomes not only a matter of faithfulness to God, but of love for the souls of others.

"My meat is to do the will of Him That sent Me, and to finish His work;" "I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished?" Thus did Jesus speak of His own labour of love; and who that professes to be a follower of Him can set a lower measure for his own life than his Master's, "Who left us an example that we should follow His steps"? Not indeed that he has no natural fellowship with all that charms the senses or the mind of man; but the melody of the songs of heaven is heard above the voice of earthly music, and the far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, seen by the eye of faith, outshines the transient spark of earthly splendour. "The time is short." Most blessed word, whether for the stirring up of our diligence in our Lord's work, that "when He cometh" we may be found doing His will; or for the gladdening of our souls in the prospect of Him Whose coming shall be "as the light of the morning, when the sun ariseth, even a morning without clouds" (2 Sam. 23). Let us try everything that the world holds dear by the glory of that day, by the power and coming of Jesus, by the joy of His saints, in whom He will come to be glorified; and then let our hearts decide whether we are ready to count all as dung, that we may win Christ.

One thing more remains. If we are looking with anything of the mind of Christ upon a world which lies in wickedness, it cannot be with the desire to share in those things which bind down the hearts of those who are deceived by the god of this world: yea which are the very objects that render it so hard even for Christians to leave it; nor in the unfaithful course which temporises with the evil, but rather in the spirit with which Jesus beheld Jerusalem and wept over it. True love for the souls of others will lead to a clear and distinct disavowal of all connection with the world, that the testimony may lead those who are involved in it to see their danger. But the charity, falsely so called, of the present day is the most murderous principle of Satan, who first deceives and then destroys.

The days are few and evil; the long-suffering of a God is waiting still, but we know not for how long. May He give us grace to do His work in the "little while." H. Borlase.