Two Letters on Worldliness.

E. L. Bevir.

(From the Italian.)

Christian Friend, vol. 13, 1886, p. 206.

I.

Dear brother, I should like to say a few words on the tendency which there is in these days to worldliness, and more especially on the means employed by the enemy to divert Christians from the path which leads to the glory. (Phil. 3.)

The subject is of so much importance that many will immediately say: "While we are down here we have occupations which bring us into direct contact with the world, either in our daily avocations, or in our individual relationships, and consequently it is impossible to fulfil our duties without more or less participating in the principles which govern it." This I totally deny, and I think the Word shows us clearly that there is in us a power great enough to keep us unspotted from the world, and capable of resisting it unto the end. The Word does not admit the possibility of our living out of the world; on the contrary, it teaches us that we are left in it, but that we are kept from the evil (John 17:15; 1 Cor. 5:10), and in order to encourage us in our warfare with the prince of this world, it tells us that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4.) What then is lacking? God has put at our disposal all the weapons necessary to meet the assaults of the enemy, and if, instead of defending, we allow ourselves to be beaten, it is either that we fail to employ the weapons with which God has furnished us, or that we misuse them. A true Christian pursues his trade honestly to gain his bread, but his real aim is to obtain everlasting glory with Christ; and this is a normal Christian according to the Word.

I come now to the means employed by Satan for turning us aside, if the heart be not truly attached to the person of Christ. It is astonishing how many Christians, while avoiding serious falls and flagrant sins, allow themselves to be overcome, little by little, by worldly ways, by the claims of society, by old friends; while they fail to see that the divine life in them loses its energy, that it is choked and enfeebled, and that gradually "old things" take possession of their hearts. At first they suffer, and make almost a sacrifice to please the world in things that are not evil in themselves; but they end by having a taste for the "old wine" (Luke 5:39), and forget that the new is much better.

We have a picture of these Christians in the history of Solomon. He never had such a serious fall as David, he never committed so great a sin as his father; but an attentive examination of the conduct of this illustrious man will reveal to us a gradual return, to the world. His reign opened amidst the glory of a little millennium, his golden sceptre was resplendent at the dedication of the temple, around him all was joy and peace; but unhappily it was of short duration. As we advance in the examination of his conduct, it is easy to see that his pristine glory fades, the monarch's heart turns to the world, the world becomes his master; and the reign which had been inaugurated by peace and glory, and the knowledge of God, is terminated amidst idols and strange women. What a difference between the beginning and the end! And how had this decadence begun? Note, dear brother, it did not happen all at once, but gradually; insensibly the things of the world gained access to his heart, and he went from bad to worse till he became an idolater.

This may be a wholesome warning to us, dear brother, and certainly shows us with what reason John said to the young men who were already strong in Christian life, "Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world." (1 John 2:15.) We are in the truth, but we are not out of danger, and the Lord alone can keep us faithful.

Amongst Satan's many fruitful devices for lowering the saints is that of subtly introducing the world without their being aware of it; on this account it is well not to be ignorant of his weapons, so as to be able to turn them aside. I will try and indicate some of them, with the hope that we may profit by the experience of other Christians who have preceded us on this difficult road. In the foremost rank may be placed old acquaintances, just because we have been on intimate terms with them, and to them our weaknesses are known. There are but two ways of avoiding this danger - either to break off all connection with them, or to proclaim the truth to them, by showing them that we have found an object worthy of our affections - an object which has taken possession of our heart, which has given a new direction to our life, and which is jealous of any friendship which is not based on the work of redemption. I admit à priori the difficulty of turning our back on an old friend, who has perhaps been of service to us, and the enemy takes occasion by all this to keep us in slavery, and to allure us into an atmosphere very unhealthy for those whose senses are fitted for a heavenly one. It may happen, for instance, that a worldly acquaintance of former days comes in and expresses a wish to pass an evening with us. What should be clone under such circumstances? If we are not careful, it may become the means of making us miss a meeting, or a projected study of the Word with others; so what is the right path? I think the best service we can render to a worldly friend, who persists in seeking our friendship, is to speak to him faithfully of the Saviour's work, and the result will be generally one of two - if he listen, so much the better, the Lord can work and help us to win a soul; if he do not listen, he will probably complain that we are changed, have new ideas, and are less amiable than formerly, but meanwhile we shall be left free to follow the Lord. This may appear a hard thing, as truly it is to the flesh, and it would be an ignoble action if the motive were not the Lord's; but we ought not to forget what Peter said to his contemporaries - "Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin." (1 Peter 4:1.) And then there is the exhortation which Paul addressed to the Corinthians - "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." (2 Cor. 6:17, 18.)

Next to former friends, our greatest danger lies in old habits, tastes of the first Adam, which are so easily re.awakened in us. What a sad thing to be a Christian, and yet to go on with the ways that we allowed before knowing the Lord! The Cretians by nature were liars, and they remained so although converted (Titus 1:12, 13); but they were to be rebuked sharply, because they were not walking according to the new man, or in dependence on the Spirit of God.

There are many of our brethren who, without falling into open sin, allow old things, already judged as hurtful, to take, possession of the heart, and here is a principal cause of the weakness they often lament. I admit that our characters are different, and that tastes differ according to temperaments; but these are the things inherent in the first man, and if we follow our individual tastes, we shall get out of the sphere of Christian communion, where a taste for the Lord Jesus is the only thing. If, for instance, an amateur of music take up his old flute or violin to please the flesh for a few hours, if the reader of novels hunt up some old story to pass the time, and thus if each of us turn back to some occupation which we loved in days before the light reached us, who will be occupied with Jesus of Nazareth? who will proclaim His virtues? who will exalt Him in a song of praise? Remember Elisha, who, before putting on Elijah's mantle, rent his own garments.

I must not omit to mention another weapon which Satan uses successfully in his ceaseless work of drawing back into the world those whom God has set apart for Himself; it is, present things - the very air which surrounds us. It is quite true that the majority of Christians do not care for the world in its most ostensible forms; they do not go to balls, do not play cards, etc., but is that enough? The Word says to us, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world;" and it is patent that many, without loving the world in its most popular garb, love certain things which are in the world. It is very easy to be led away by an object which in itself is not evil; but if our hearts be ensnared by things which are seen, we lose the taste for things which are not seen, and thus unwittingly we find ourselves in a worldly atmosphere.

The other day I received a letter from a brother which I hoped might contain some word of edification; on the contrary, I found it full of a great industrial and artistic exhibition which was on hand in a European city. You can conceive, dear brother, my astonishment. But that is what we have come to. In the meetings we say we are heavenly, we read and print good books, we publish excellent periodicals, and then, from the practices of many amongst us, we see that hearts are full of worldly things, and insensible to the glory of Jesus, which we shall so soon inherit. I do not say that art and science are bad things, but I would remind you, nevertheless, that Adam made a very wrong use of the trees in the garden of Eden, which in themselves were not bad things, when he used them to hide from God.

Farewell, dear brother, I have perhaps written sufficiently; but if the Lord permit, I will on a future occasion add a few more thoughts to my letter.

Your affectionate fellow-labourer, E. L. B.

There are no circumstances in which the Lord is not enough for us.